Policy Speech: Mandating Paid Parental Leave

Proposed policy speech written and delivered for Public Speaking course in April 2017


I. Introduction

Sacrifice. That is the first word that pops into my mind when I think about the meaning of parenthood. It wasn’t until I sat down with my parents to discuss their experiences with the United States’ lack of a paid parental leave mandate that I could fully understand that being a parent requires the sacrificing of your future for the sake of your child’s future. My mother continues to have an exciting career in Speech-Language Pathology. She loved her job at the Reading Rehab, but the Rehab had not even offered unpaid leave and her rights as a parent were not federally protected. She decided to quit her job a week before giving birth to me, so she could be the best mom for me. She could not find work until I was 4 months old. Because of this my father chose not to claim paternity leave and had to work overtime to avoid increased financial strain. The year: 1998. Flash-forward to 2017 and parents continue to face the same predicament because our government has not passed any legislation to remedy this situation.

Term Topic Question and Preview

  1. Should the United States Congress mandate paid parental leave? Yes.
  2. Today I will review some of the inherent setbacks of the lack of a paid parental leave policy and introduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act as a comprehensive and much-needed solution, while visualizing the benefits all families can reap under a paid parental leave mandate.

Transition: First, we must look back at how the inaccessibility of paid parental leave promotes inequality in the United States.

II. Body

A. Problem: As discussed previously, the United States is the only OECD country without a paid parental leave mandate, seeing as we do not even require employers to offer unpaid leave, as reported by the International Journal. The closest thing we have to a parental leave mandate is the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows employees who work for businesses that meet certain criteria twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year. Less than one-fifth of parents are currently eligible for FMLA benefits, as stated in the U.S. Census. States hold the power to issue their own mandates, but few have made any effort to do so. We are promoting inequality and undermining the worth of the diversity of families across the country.

  1. Sub-point 1: Strengthening the magnitude of income inequality, The United States Census also reports that only thirteen percent of U.S. employees have access to some form of paid leave within the businesses they work for, with only five percent of the bottom income quartile having access to it as of 2010, as reported by Pacific Standard. According to the Department of Labor, families with a combined income less than $20,000 are twice as likely than the average family to not have access to FMLA benefits. Because of the selectivity of the available paid parental leave programs, people of all incomes cannot access what they so desperately need.
  2. Sub-point 2: Gender inequality will continue to exist if mothers and fathers do not both have the same opportunities to take off work to care for a newborn child. Fathers hold just as much of an importance in a child’s life as a mother. Still, a paternity briefing by the Department of Labor reported that mothers are more than twice as likely to take time off for the birth of a child than a father, with seven out of ten of these fathers taking off ten days or less. Fathers are frequently stereotyped as being less involved in the lives of their children when compared to mothers. The lack of a paid parental leave mandate just enforces this disparity between genders.
  3. Sub-point 3: Still, women face workplace inequality. Pregnant women can be seen as risks to employers, who are fearful of the voids they create in the workplace that lead to the accumulation of costs and lowered productivity. Pacific Standard reports that having a baby increases a woman’s chances of being let go by her employer by up to eleven percent depending on her education level. Without a paid parental leave mandate, women are hindered from advancing in their careers, not providing them with the same opportunities as men in the workplace. This just connects back to a greater system of gender norms in which women are expected to care for the child.

Transition: The lack of a paid parental leave mandate is generating more harm than good as inequality is promoted. But the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act could change this.

B. Solution: I have continually talked about the need for a paid parental mandate that can protect all families, no matter how diverse they may be. (Slide 6) The Family Medical and Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, would be able to transcend the multifaceted nature of every family, decreasing inequality and giving every family the rights it deserves.

  1. Sub-point 1: Though shot down by Congressional Republicans in 2015, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut reintroduced the FAMILY Act to Congress on February 7, 2017. It has already gained 27 cosponsors in the Senate and 131 in the House. The National Partnership for Women and Families detailed the FAMILY Act. The passing of the FAMILY Act would lead to the creation of the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration. Paid leave would become an earned benefit much like Social Security, with employees applying directly to the Office and notifying their employers. The program would be funded by employees and employers through payroll deductions of just two-tenths of 1 percent of wages. This is roughly $2 out of an average employee’s salary each week. Up to 12 weeks of paid leave are guaranteed with an employee being able to earn up to 66% of their usual salary while on leave. Employers could then adjust any of the business’s current parental leave policies, ensuring that productivity costs will not increase.
  2. Sub-point 2: California is one of the few states with its own paid parental leave measure. Though not identical because California does not allow as much time off, the state’s policy very closely mirrors that of the FAMILY Act in that workers are compensated through pay roll deductions. The Center for American Progress found that 87% of employers in California found that the paid parental leave mandate did not cause increases in costs for the employers, with some reporting that the mandate even generated cost savings. This is a huge break through, as many opponents of the mandate are against it because of believed adverse effects on businesses. The FAMILY Act would actually be cheaper for employers and employees then taking unpaid leave now. 45% of small business owners in 2010 reported that they were in favor of a paid parental leave mandate, with 51% of these small business owners identifying as Republicans. This means their Congressional counterparts are not properly representing them, especially since small businesses saw more positive effects from the FAMILY Act than larger companies. The same study found that 12 weeks of unpaid leave costs the average family $9,316 in lost wages per year, while the FAMILY Act would lead families to lose only $227 per year.

Transition: Finally, I want to paint you a picture of what America could look like with a paid parental leave mandate under the FAMILY Act. 

C. Visualization: Because the FAMILY Act works with the wages of employees, low income employees would not have to suffer increased financial hardship. Parents will no longer have to wrestle back and forth with who takes off work for how long because both mothers and fathers will be able to spend time with their newborn child while being compensated. Women will not have to choose between having a career and a child, as they will be more likely to stay in the workforce and not have to worry about experiencing a decrease in pay. The stigma for fathers taking paternity leave would decrease, with American fathers becoming immediately involved in the lives of their children. We would work toward crushing gender norms, since mothers and fathers can act as both breadwinner and caretaker. We would strive to treat each family equally, which every family is deserving of.

Transition: Even so, the passing of a paid parental leave mandate depends on our willingness to take action. 

III. Conclusion

A. During my speech I reviewed how a lack of a paid parental leave mandate only promotes inequality, and I offered the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act as a means to break down these barriers. We thought about what America would be like for all families with a paid parental leave mandate.

B. Provide an appeal to action: After class, I am going to send you all a link to a petition created by the National Partnership for Women and Families. If you feel strongly about a national mandate for paid parental leave and think the FAMILY Act is the proper solution, I urge you to take a couple of moments to sign the petition. By doing so, the offices of the respective Senators and Representatives for your address will be directly contacted about your support for the passing of the FAMILY Act. Feel free to share the link with friends and continue to reach out to your officials. (Slide 9) But as an even simpler call to action, I want you to ask your parents about their experiences with a lack of a paid parental leave mandate. I can promise you that you will walk away with a newfound appreciation for what they have done for you.

C. Final thought: More than anything else, I want you to remember the importance of making sacrifices as being a part of a family. Think about the sacrifices your parents made for you to be here today. Think about the sacrifices you will make if you become a parent someday. But think about the severity of the sacrifices your children may have to make if we do not fight for the mandating of paid parental leave today.


References 

DOL Policy Brief: Paternity Leave. (2015). United States Department of Labor. Retrieved March 27, 2017.

Dusenbery, M. (2015, Sept. 16). How America’s Lack of Paid Maternity Leave Worsens Inequality. Pacific Standard. Retrieved March 27, 2017.

El-Dardiry, G. & Heymann, J. (Winter 2008/2009). Work and Family Policy in the United States: Past Gaps, Future Responsibilities. International Journal, 64 (1), 125-133. Retrieved February 27, 2017.

Family Medical and Insurance Leave Act Fact Sheet. (Feb. 2017). National Partnership for
Women and Families. Retrieved April 15, 2017.

Family and Medical Leave. (n.d.). United States Department of Labor. Retrieved February 27, 2017.

Farrell, J. (2015). The FAMILY Act: Facts and Frequently Asked Questions. The Center for
American Progress. Retrieved April 15, 2017.

Laughlin, L. (2011). Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns of First-Time Mothers: 1961-2008. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 27, 2017.

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