In the wake of President Biden’s State of the Union Address, much of the focus was on the political division in Congress, and whether a Republican-controlled House will go after Social Security. Biden also covered a gamut of other crucial issues, including one I have focused on for years: paid leave for caregivers.
“Let’s make sure working parents can afford to raise a family with sick days, paid family medical leave, affordable childcare,” the president said. “That’s going to enable millions more people to go and stay at work.”
On paid leave, there may be reasons for hope. There has long been a great chasm between what Americans want and what the federal government gets done in this respect. Numerous surveys show large majorities of Americans support paid leave across political lines. In one survey, 90% of Democrats expressed support. Another survey found that 62% of Republican women and 56% of Republican men support parental leave.
Despite all this, Congress has failed to act. Most recently, Democrats tried to get paid leave established through the Inflation Reduction Act but ended up having to abandon this measure, along with some others, in order to win passage.
A new political landscape
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, some Republicans began working to win over voters on issues involving support for families, the Washington Post reported. Then came the midterm elections, a major disappointment for Republicans as the “red wave” failed to materialize.
The GOP has the incentive to show voters that it is ready to act on issues that make a difference in their lives–and deliver tangible results. And given the narrow GOP majority in the House, it would not take many Republicans in the chamber to support paid leave for a bill to advance to the Senate, where the bill might win passage this time, with a larger Democratic majority than in the previous Congress.
Recent months showed that support for modern families can bring Democrats and Republicans together in Washington. Fearful that the Supreme Court might overturn the decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, lawmakers put forward a bill to codify such marriages into law. Twelve Republicans joined all the Democrats to pass the bill.
While same-sex marriage is very popular, with 71% of Americans supporting it, support for paid leave is even higher. It’s especially popular among women, who played a major role in Democrats’ midterm victories. The GOP needs to win over women.
However, it’s also crucial to recognize that paid parental leave is not just a “women’s issue.” It’s an issue for all parents and for everyone who understands the importance of caregiving, including men and fathers.
Research has shown that fathers want more time at home to care for their children. Some 79% of U.S. fathers said they would “do anything” to have more time at home to care for their children, a survey by Equimundo (formerly known as Promundo) and Dove Men+Care found. Financial pressures and social stigmas prevent men from taking time to care for their children. (I partner with the brand to advocate for parental leave through legislative and cultural change, including the Pledge for Paternity Leave.)
In writing my book All In, I found that these problems often make it impossible for men to take paternity leave, even when it’s available to them. Public paid leave programs go a long way in fixing this. Covered by small payroll deductions, they create a fund that pays parents when they need the time off. As a result, people stay in the workforce, productivity and corporate profits go up, the economy grows, and there’s more equity at home–with more parents taking time for caregiving regardless of their gender.
This explains why states have been passing their own paid leave laws, with bipartisan support. It’s time to make this policy a reality nationwide.
As lawmakers look ahead to 2023, they need to think hard about deliverables. Americans have made clear that they care about paid leave. Anyone who takes action to make it happen– Democratic or Republican–will reap the rewards in 2024.
It’s up to all of us to end America’s status as the only developed nation that does not ensure that when a baby is born, they have a parent at home for at least a block of weeks. Only paid leave can achieve that.
Josh Levs is the author of All In and a business consultant changing the role of men in gender equality efforts.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
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