Tag Archives: paid family leave

Legislators should approve paid family leave bill in CT

This article was originally published by the CT Mirror on May 17, 2017.

This past January, Connecticut lawmakers introduced two paid family and medical leave bills: Senate Bill No. 1 and House Bill No. 6212: An Act Concerning Earned Family and Medical Leave. The legislation passed through the Labor Committee successfully in March, but since then supporters of paid family leave have anxiously awaited further action from the Assembly.

With less than a month to go before Connecticut legislators adjourn for the summer, Connecticut citizens need to demand that our representatives take action on these bills and pass paid family and medical leave in Connecticut.

If passed, the legislation would require employers to provide 12 weeks of paid leave (100 percent of weekly earnings, up to a $1,000 cap) to new parents or those who need to care for a sick relative or recover from a personal illness. The system would be funded through employee contributions (less than a half percent of weekly earnings), thereby eliminating the financial burden on small business owners.

In fact, since workers without access to paid leave often have to leave their jobs altogether, paid family leave benefits employers and business owners because it reduces turnover and increases retention. Paid family leave can keep Connecticut competitive by attracting workers and young professionals looking to live in states with progressive policies that allow families to work and care for each other at the same time.

Paid family leave lessens burdens on taxpayers by decreasing reliance on public assistance and social services. A study conducted by Rutgers University found that new mothers who return to their jobs after taking paid leave are about 40 percent less likely to receive public assistance compared to women who do not have access to paid leave.

In addition to the economic benefits of a paid family leave program, this legislation will bring Connecticut into the 21st century by updating our policies to reflect the realities of working families today. Gone are the days when men brought home the bacon for women to fry up in the kitchen —these days, more than three in five families are considered dual earner households, meaning both women and men are working outside the home. While in the past, women who stayed home could function as caregivers to new babies and sick relatives, our families have changed and our policies need to sprint to catch up.

A common misperception about this legislation is that it is a “women’s issue,” but to the contrary, paid family leave is a family issue, a Connecticut issue, and an American issue. Paid family leave will strengthen families by ensuring children get a good start in life and that the adults can do what they need to do concerning their family without risking their financial security. Strong families make strong states and strong states make strong countries.

Passing paid family leave would ensure no one has to choose between a paycheck and being there for their family. Senate Bill No. 1 and House Bill No. 6212 represent the kind of smart, common sense solutions this state needs to grow into a competitive, economically stable state where families can thrive because they know they are valued.

4 Ways Life Overseas is Different (and maybe better) than in America

For the past five weeks, I have been privileged to take some time off and travel the world with my husband. Our journey will last about six months in total, and will take us across every continent except for Antarctica. In the process, I have been interviewing women and their families in different countries to better understand the issues women face abroad and how they are both similar and different from those experienced in the U.S. I’m documenting these interviews on my blog, Women of the World.

So far, I’ve traveled through Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Italy. Some of these countries are the most progressive in the world when it comes to gender equality, and I’ve learned valuable lessons not only about gender, but about ways of life for Europeans that in some ways seem to be healthier, happier ways of being compared to how we live in the U.S.

The 4 things I’ve learned about life overseas are specific to my experience—they are not meant to perfectly represent life for everyone in these countries, but rather provide a snapshot from the people I’ve talked to and my observations so far.

1. Work is NOT the center of life
In many of the countries I’ve visited, work is not as intimately bound up with one’s identity as it often is in the U.S. Many European professionals go to work at about 9am in the morning and return by 4 or 5pm. And when they come home, they’re done with work—there’s no incessant need to check e-mail after-hours or even talk much about work at all. Instead, things like time with family and outside hobbies are more important. But work isn’t unimportant to Europeans—in fact, every person I talked to takes a lot of pride in their work, it just doesn’t take center stage in their lives. And in addition to working fewer hours, Europeans get more vacation time too—in fact, it’s a law that every country in the European Union provide 4 weeks of paid vacation to employees. To me, this seems like a way more balanced way of living.

2. Parental leave is amazing
Parental leave is not just a lofty policy ideal like it is in the U.S., but a real benefit that both women AND men are entitled to in many countries. For example, parents in Sweden get 480 days of leave at 80% pay that parents can split up however they choose, and that’s after 18 weeks reserved just for new moms. Additionally, dads get 90 days of leave reserved specifically for them. In Estonia, parents get more than a year—435 days—to share after maternity leave ends, and are paid the average of both their wages.

Caregiving is valued in many countries, and government makes it a lot easier for families to combine work and family– in addition to generous parental leave, childcare is also way more affordable. In Finland, government-funded childcare is free to all parents with children age 7 and under. And if parents choose not to use childcare and stay at home to care for their children, they get paid for it.

"Work/life balance is still probably my biggest challenge. But I think it's a big challenge for men too, not just women. We all work outside of the home and inside too and it's hard, it's a lot for anyone." -Finland
“Work/life balance is still probably my biggest challenge. But I think it’s a big challenge for men too, not just women. We all work outside of the home and inside too and it’s hard, it’s a lot for anyone.” -Finland

3. The idea of a level playing field actually exists
In the U.S., we believe that all men and women are created equal, and that there is opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard. But in reality, not all opportunities are created equal. For example, where you can afford to live greatly impacts the quality of public schools available to your children, and there are stark differences between wealthy and poor neighborhoods around the country in terms of educational attainment and success. And with skyrocketing costs of college, many Americans either can’t afford to go or, if they do, are then saddled with crushing debt that affects their economic security for the rest of their lives.

In places like Finland, public schools are more or less equal in quality and even state universities are free. Students in Norway typically pay a fee of 50 euros per semester at public universities. In these countries, making education more or less equal regardless of family income or background is the solution to leveling the playing field and giving every citizen a truly equal chance.

4. Men have more freedom to define their own masculinity
In the U.S., we’ve made a lot of progress toward breaking down gender roles and prescriptions about how men and women ought to behave. But compared to some European countries, we have a long way to go. In my travels, I have been struck by how some of the men I’ve met seem much more willing to express emotions and talk about things we almost never hear men talk about in the U.S., like mental illness and eating disorders. I met one young man who had taken sick leave from his job because he was struggling with depression. He talked about his challenges so openly and honestly, without an ounce of embarrassment or shame. And the fact that he actually could take months of leave from work to deal with his mental illness is amazing itself—as he put it: “We might pay a lot in taxes here, but when you get sick—physically or mentally—our country will take care of you.”

It’s true that the way of life for Europeans is due in large part to their bigger governments, and therefore, higher taxes. Yet, working families often don’t feel strained because of it—in fact, Norwegians enjoy a higher disposable income than the average working family in the U.S. For many Europeans, providing these benefits is a part of their culture—they truly value caregiving, family, and equality and couldn’t imagine life any other way.

While I absolutely love my country and am proud to be an American, I think it’s a good idea to look beyond our borders and take some lessons from other successful countries back to the U.S. Bringing more balance and fulfillment into American lives can only make us stronger.

Please LIKE my blog on Facebook to see and read more about what I’m learning on the rest of my journey.

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