Editor’s note: The following guest post is authored by Rhode Island State Sen. Gayle Goldin. Join the conversation on Twitter about paid leave using the hashtag #FamiliesSucceed.
As a state legislator in Rhode Island, I’m always thinking about how we can make our state a better place for families. We may be the smallest state in the country, but we’re taking on some big challenges − including paid family leave.
One year ago, we became the third state in the nation with paid family leave, and the first to include job protection. That means an employee can have up to four weeks of paid time off from work without fear of losing their job to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child through birth, adoption or foster care.
My advocacy for paid family leave comes from my own life experiences as a caregiver and a care receiver. In 2001, within four weeks of each other, my oldest sister and I became mothers for the first time. We were both dealing with sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, and learning the ropes of becoming new parents. The difference was that because my sister lives in Montreal, Canada, she received 52 weeks of job-protected paid time off to care for her new daughter. I lived across a border, six hours south, and the contrast was remarkable: my only option was taking unpaid leave. I know in many respects I am very lucky: I happened to have worked for an employer who was required under state and federal law to provide me with job-protected, unpaid leave, but the financial strain of new parenthood without my income wasn’t lucky at all.
I know many Rhode Island families face similar challenges. In my state, about 70 percent of children have both parents in the workforce, so family emergencies are likely to require taking time off from work. Without paid leave, taking that time might have meant losing your job − or at a minimum, losing days or weeks of pay − putting the whole family’s financial security at risk. And while bonding with a new child is a wonderful experience, it can also be a financially difficult time.
For many of my constituents, paid family leave has already had a profound impact on their lives. Karen was able to use paid family leave to pay the bills when her husband’s battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s resulted in hospitalization. Another constituent, Vanessa, who was pregnant when the law passed, was so excited that her husband would now be able to take four weeks off to care for their new little one, she told me her baby’s name even though she wasn’t telling anyone else − not even her mother!
I’ve seen how paid family leave works in my state – and I know it can help families all across the country. Studies show that paid leave also benefits employers in that workers who have access to it are more likely to stay with those employers out of loyalty. And because workers are able to take the time they need, they’re able to return to the workforce more focused and refreshed.
On a larger scale, it’s good for the economy: When people have money in their pockets to pay for groceries and other necessities while dealing with important needs, it helps keep local businesses open and other workers employed.
When I look at paid leave policies around the world, I know our country sticks out like a sore thumb. Instead of our country being a leader, we are falling far behind. I’m proud to be on the forefront of pushing for change in Rhode Island. I’m hopeful that when my sons are grown, they won’t have to worry about the availability of paid family leave, affordable child care, or health insurance. All of these things – my family, my constituents, my state, my country – drive me, and I’m encouraged by the positive changes that we’re making in Rhode Island for working families. I hope they will help propel the nation to address outdated workplace policies so that no one will have to choose between the job they need and the family they love.