President Obama Proposes Paid Leave For Pregnancy, Sickness

A source of frustration gets Washington’s attention.

President Obama Proposes Paid Leave For Pregnancy, Sickness
[Photo: Flickr user J.K. Califf]

For many Americans, having a baby or taking care of a sick parent means an automatic pay cut. That needs to change, says President Obama, who is calling on Congress and federal agencies to implement new policies around paid family and sick leave.

There are two prongs to Obama’s proposal: a bill that would establish a $2 billion incentive fund for states to administer family leave programs and an executive order that would provide federal employees with six weeks of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Obama will feature the proposal in his State of the Union address on January 20.

“The truth is, the success and productivity of our workers is inextricably tied to their ability to care for their families and maintain a stable life at home,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote yesterday in a post on LinkedIn. “The fundamental structure of our workplaces has simply not kept pace with the changing American family.”

Indeed, the U.S. is one of just two countries lacking policies for paid maternity leave, out of the 185 reviewed by the International Labour Organization as part of a 2014 report. The other: Papua New Guinea.

Over the last year Americans have been engaged in a sometimes heated debate about the shifting demands of work and family. For every woman who adored Lean In, another recoiled at Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s privileged take on motherhood.

Stories of unforeseen pregnancy leading to career setbacks have popped up on Fast Company and elsewhere, as women (and men) have grown increasingly transparent about their struggles and frustrations with the current system. Their experiences suggest that the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave without fear of reprisal, has not been enough to give families the support they need.

Preliminary evidence suggests that generous paid-leave programs in states like California have had a positive economic impact, thanks to the stability they provide. Even so, Obama’s proposed bill will likely face resistance in Congress, where Republicans have vowed to reduce spending.

About the author

Staff writer Ainsley (O'Connell) Harris covers the business of technology with a focus on financial services and education. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.

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