“American Exceptionalism”

The United States is the only developed nation without paid maternity leave.

The United States Is The Only Developed Nation Without Paid Maternity Leave

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Carly Fiorina, the only female GOP candidate, said that she “oppose[s] the government mandating paid maternity leave.” Fiorina doesn’t want government “to dictate to the private sector how to manage their businesses,” ignoring the fact that paid family leave has been shown to be good for businesses.

The United States is exceptional when it comes to paid family leave, and not for good reason: the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee mothers any paid time off and one of only a few nations that does not offer broader paid family leave. Research, however, shows such policies have strong economic benefits. Here are just a few examples:

  • Paid leave increases labor force participation. A lack of paid family leave is one of the reasons that the United States is falling behind other developed countries in the growth of the percentage of women in the labor force.
  • Paid leave helps businesses. A vast majority of businesses in California, one of the few states to offer paid family leave, report that paid leave helped reduce turnover and did not affect profitability. Economists estimate that the savings in turnover saved California businesses $89 million.
  • Paid leave could provide critical support to the workers who need it most. Only 12 percent of private-sector workers in the United States receive paid family leave from their employers, and most of these workers work in mostly higher-income, white-collar jobs. Just 5 percent of the lowest-paid 25 percent of employees get paid family leave. When surveyed, nearly half of workers who reported that they needed such leave said they could not afford to take it without pay.
  • Paid leave increases lifetime earnings and retirement security among workers, especially women. Paid family leave enables workers to remain in the labor force while taking leave, enabling workers to better prepare for retirement. On average, women lose a total of $274,044 and men lose a total of $233,716 in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits from leaving the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities.

Fiorina isn’t alone in her opposition to paid leave. While her comments focused specifically on paid maternity leave for mothers, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Scott Walker have all voted against laws that would have enabled millions of workers from earning paid sick days that can be used for short-term illnesses like the flu.

Paid family leave and paid sick days are just two of the numerous policies GOP candidates oppose at the expense of working families. Another is the minimum wage, which, if increased to $12 by 2020, would help more than 35 million workers while saving taxpayers $52.7 billion over the next 10 years. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker, who calls the minimum wage “lame,” oppose raising the minimum wage, despite the fact that the minimum wage is on track to be the lowest in 70 years in real terms in 2025. Fiorina and other GOP candidates also oppose policies that increase wages and promote greater equity for women, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act that helps close the gender wage gap.

Another important policy for working families is raising the overtime threshold. The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would raise the overtime threshold, enabling 5 million workers to receive fair compensation for their work beyond 40 hours a week. Though 79 percent of Americans support raising the threshold, which is currently below the federal poverty line for a family of 4, those in opposition, such as Jeb Bush, cite the same failed trickle-down theory that helps boost CEO pay at the expense of workers.

BOTTOM LINE: If Carly Fiorina and other GOP candidates truly want the United States to be exceptional, they should invest in workers and support paid family leave. But that is just one of a list of policies many of these candidates oppose, including increasing the federal minimum wage and raising the overtime threshold, which would help working families get ahead.

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