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Will Our Grandchildren Have Paid Family and Medical Leave by 2043?

Sep 6, 2023 | Children, Future, Michigan, Political Parties, Politics, Well-being | 0 comments

Imagine it’s 2043. Your grandchildren are adults, but have not yet built up much savings. Do they or their spouse want to spend a few months at home to bond with their newborn? Or do they have a cancer diagnosis and need to take six weeks off work to get their treatments started? Good luck with that.

Just like back in 2023, the U.S. is the only economically advanced country with no paid family and medical leave policy. So, if they or their spouse take the time off anyway, how will they live with one less paycheck? Will they run up their credit card debt? Take out a second mortgage on their home?

How do we know that the U.S. will still not have a paid family and medical leave program? It’s just a guess based on history. The first serious attempt to pass a program was the Family and Medical Insurance Act of 2013. After twenty years, Congress still has not taken action — even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the presidency in 2021. Why would the next twenty years be any different?

The state of paid family and medical leave today

While large majorities of American adults are in favor of a paid family and medical leave program, Congress seems unable to act. Since the Federal Government has deadlocked on this popular policy, the states have stepped up.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia* have now enacted mandatory paid family leave programs. Four of the states – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York – have had programs in place for over five years.

The states that have stepped up are finding their programs are affordable and sustainable. California, the state with the longest experience, pays out more than 900,000 claims per year. One third of their claims are for family caregiving or child bonding while two thirds are for personal medical reasons. About 1 in 15 covered workers use the program per year. And – the good news — the entire cost including California’s disability program is financed with just 0.9% of payrolls.

Looking forward – Will Michigan be next?

The spread of state-based paid family and medical leave programs is accelerating. Beginning in California in 2002, It took 14 years for the first 4 states to enact programs. Then just 7 years for the next 10 states. Michigan may be the next.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on the Michigan Legislature to pass a family and medical leave program this fall. Republicans first responded with an awkward criticism that it would amount to “summer break for adults.” Cooler heads prevailed later and a spokesperson for House Republicans said that they support paid family leave – just not this particular proposal.

Let’s take this spokesperson at his word. Michigan Republicans may have figured out that supporting paid family and medical leave is good politics, but they still have to keep their business constituents happy. Both the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan have come out against the proposal.

How can Republican legislators please voters who would like it and not upset their business supporters? The answer is don’t oppose – negotiate.

The Bipartisan Policy Center identifies fifteen decisions that states have to make on the design of their programs. These cover issues about who qualifies, what is covered, levels of payments, and funding mechanisms. If there are four reasonable alternatives for each of the fifteen issues, that offers 60 opportunities for negotiation and compromise.

Juggling these design decisions, the District of Columbia came up with a program that costs employees nothing and employers only 0.26% of payroll — yet it pays out 90% of a worker’s average weekly pay up to $1,049 (indexed for inflation).

Republicans in Michigan are at a decision point. They can choose to engage on the proposal and share credit for bringing paid family and medical leave to voters. Or, they can stonewall the governor’s proposal and let the Democratic majority take full credit with the voters.

What does the future hold for paid family and medical leave in the U.S.?

The trend is toward more and more state governments enacting paid family and medical leave programs, but — so far — only in states where Democrats are in control.* If your grandchildren live in a “blue” state in 2043 and have to take time off work, they probably will not have to run up credit card debt or take on that second mortgage. If they live in a “red” state, they will be out of luck unless Republicans change their ways. Will Republicans have figured out paid family and medical leave is good politics by 2043? We will see.

*California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, District of Columbia, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, Maine

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