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Women and the Economy

Support for Paid family leave advanced in the U.S. Senate yesterday, as lawmakers heard testimony on its benefits in a key Children and Families Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill.

During the hearing—which was requested by U.S. Senator Kay Hagan—North Carolina business owners, advocates, and representatives of working families made the case for why paid family medical leave policies benefit both employees and businesses. Such programs allow workers to recover from a serious illness or care for a sick loved one or new child without risking their job or the income they need. The hearing renewed a call for a universal family and medical leave insurance program that doesn’t shoulder all the burden of cost on employers.

Currently the Family and Medical Leave Act is the only federal law designed to help working people succeed both as providers and caregivers. It leaves out 40 percent of the workforce and guarantees only unpaid leave, which millions cannot afford. Only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and less than 40 percent have personal medical leave through an employer-provided temporary disability program. This means millions of workers who develop serious health conditions, have seriously ill family members or become parents are forced to choose between providing care or having the income they need to cover basic expenses.

In North Carolina, 77 percent of mothers with children under 18 work, and 44 percent of workers have no access to paid sick days, let alone paid family medical leave. Low-income workers have it even worse off and are often given no flexibility in their work schedules at all.

Two North Carolinians testified at the hearing. Jeannine Sato is a resident of Durham, NC and member of NC MomsRising. Sato’s previous employer denied her extended leave after the birth of her first child. She said:

We are human – to pretend that people don’t get sick and that they don’t give birth just doesn’t make sense….Families should have the opportunity to care for their loved ones without the risk of losing their jobs or falling into poverty…. America needs to step up and join the rest of the industrialized world in offering paid family leave in order to be competitive and humane.

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