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Issue of Paid Family Leave in the US

The experience of giving birth and the initial stages of raising a child is an incredible part of many people’s lives. It is a universal milestone that reserves great importance in the future of new and experienced parents, as well as humanity as a whole. However, this already stressful and exhausting process is insulted by the uncertainty of being eligible for paid family leave in America as expecting parents struggle to cope with temporarily losing an income and the possibility of unemployment on top of taking care of a newborn. Individuals presented with the responsibility of caring for older family members also have a lack of job security during the most devastating and demanding events of caregiving. Most people, especially those troubled in a low-income lifestyle, resort to borderline child neglect or are unable to care for helpless elders in order to remain financially stable. Providing paid family leave for a reasonable period of time would protect the well-being of infants, adults, and elders while promoting financial stability for both the employee and the employer.

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Recently, a group of children’s advocates belonging to the group 1,000 Days protested against the lack of paid family leave provided for new parents during National Breastfeeding Month. On August 23rd of 2019, Executive Director Lucy Sullivan quoted research stating that “paid time off can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10%” while only “17% of U.S. workers have paid family leave benefits” during a protest (Galatas, 4-6). Without these necessary benefits, new mothers are obligated to return to work early, impairing their ability to properly breastfeed. Sullivan stresses in her protests that within the first month of returning to an occupational lifestyle, women are twice as likely to stop breastfeeding their infants opposed to new mothers who are able to remain at home (Galatas, 2). Many people ignore the importance of bonding and nurturing between a baby and its mother, especially when it comes to financial security and business production. However, there are many negative long-term effects of separating a developing infant from its mother for both parties. Medical Doctor Mary Beth Steinfield recommends frequent social and physical experiences between a mother and her child during the early stages of growth because it promotes the development of empathy and relationship-building skills that will be critical later in life (Steinfeild, 2). It is also important that the child is able to bond with its father and siblings during this optimal period of development in order to manifest a trusting connection. Being able to respond to the infant’s physical and audible communication, such as crying, smiling, and making eye contact at every possible moment will ensure that the baby will be able to enter healthy relationships and correctly experience a wider spectrum of emotions throughout its life (Steinfeild, 2-9). If a child is separated from its parents due to work or neglect, it is likely that the child will experience a pattern of vulnerability and exhibit stressful responses to its environment. Myron Hofer, former director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychology at Columbia University, performed an experiment with neonatal rats to discover the effects of maternal separation. The neonates experienced anxiety and trauma during a “period of calling and active search behavior” due to the “loss of warmth a child receives through bodily contact, nutrients, and other physiological interactions with its mother” (APS, 5). When the rodents experienced separation from its parents at a younger age, they were more likely to yield stomach ulcers caused by the immense stress of the situation. When applied to complex human infant consequences, the effects are still damaging and long-term despite being less severe. Paid family leave and job security would ensure that mothers or fathers are able to spend an adequate amount of time with their growing newborns, preventing traumatic stressful experiences that damage an infant’s ability to properly develop relationships and experience appropriate emotions.

Critics of paid family leave claim that the system reflects poorly on business success and efficiency resulting in increased consumer prices. Those who aren’t planning on starting families of their own question the justification of paying workers to stay home with their babies, assuming these financial handouts are putting an unnecessary dent in the economy. However, since California began implementing paid leave programs for more than a decade ago, multiple studies have detailed the true effects of paid leave on business. Workers were able to tend to serious family emergencies or properly raise their newborns, and as a result California reported that 83 percent of employees at lower quality occupations that had access to leave returned to their former employer after a period of unemployment indicating a 10-point improvement. Additionally, 87 percent of the businesses in California reported that there was no decrease in profit after implementing paid leave programs into their establishment, nine percent of which experienced an increase in gross profit. Vice President and Director of Human Resources in California’s Environmental Science Department, Annette Bonill, states that “employees who took time off when a new baby arrived or a new serious illness struck” were not as stressed as employees who didn’t have access to any form of paid leave, and that “less stressed workers mean more productive workers” (NPWF, 1).  Since then, New Jersey and Rhode Island have also integrated paid leave programs into their economic system, recognizing that maintaining employee satisfaction is the key to great business. Protecting the well-being of workers and their families will promote an increase in employee morale, productivity, loyalty, and retention that boosts the overall efficiency and success of any organization.

Employees transitioning into parenthood or facing a crisis desperately need both financial and job security to ensure the safety of all affected family members, while businesses desire higher profits and productivity. Integrating a national standardized paid family leave program based on insurance and contributions from both the employee and employer would provide positive outcomes for both parties, as demonstrated by a handful of progressive states.



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