SAN FRANCISCO made headlines in the beginning of April for mandating six weeks of paid leave to new parents at 100% of their salary. The city has long led the progressive front on paid maternity and paternity leave; before this new mandate, paid leave was provided to new moms and dads alike at 55% their salary.
Unfortunately, the U.S. as a whole is lagging far behind. Paid maternity leave is not federally-mandated in the U.S.; currently, a paltry 12% of the workforce has access to paid family leave, which includes paid parental leave. The U.S. is the only country with an advanced economy that doesn’t require employers to provide paid leave to new moms, with most countries mandating between 10 and 20 weeks of paid time off from work after birth.
The loss of wages women often experience after childbirth, along with the resulting gap in work history, are two factors underlying the gender wage gap, reported the Center for American Progress. Another factor impacting women’s ability to return to work after having a baby is the high cost of child care. Child Care Aware reported that, across all states, child care in daycare centers for a single infant accounts for a quarter of single parents’ median income, and between seven and 15% of married couples’ median incomes. In some states, it’s over 50% of median income for a single parent. If you add in a second child, daycare is not an option for many parents.
Since paid maternity leave and affordable child care are issues impacting women economically and professionally, it’s important to consider where our 2016 presidential candidates stand on these issues.
The Democratic Candidates
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sec. Hillary Clinton both have paid family leave plans that include 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and fathers and require that they are provided with at least 66% of their normal salary. The difference between the proposals is how they are funded.
Sander supports the plan outlined in the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which was introduced to Congress in March of 2015 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. The Act would impose a tiny payroll tax increase to be split by employers and employees. It would cost the average worker $1.38 a week.
Clinton, on the other hand, says she will fund her paid family leave program through tax reforms that demand more from America’s wealthiest. At the heart of the difference is Clinton’s campaign promise not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year. While Sanders would hit up the country’s wealthiest to fund several other programs (like free public college and infrastructure rebuilding), he’s not against asking lower- and middle-income people to pitch in a very small amount for big returns.
Both candidates have expressed support for affordable child care, although their plans are less detailed. Sanders said last summer that he would make child care more affordable and accessible by increasing taxes on the wealthy and taxing Wall Street speculation. He also noted that people working in child care should be making higher wages and receiving better training. In 2011, he introduced the Foundations for Success Act into the Senate, which, if passed, would have provided grants to 10 states, which would have implemented pilot programs to ensure early childhood education and child care for all children from six weeks of age through kindergarten.
Clinton’s campaign site states that she supports doubling investment in Head Start programs that provide early education and child care, noting that, as First Lady, Clinton helped implement Head Start programming in the country. The site doesn’t explain how Clinton would fund the doubled investment, or how many children it would serve.
The Republican Candidates
It’s unlikely that any of our GOP hopefuls would push for substantial changes to current paid leave or child care policies. Sen. Ted Cruz thinks paid parental leave is awesome, but doesn’t think it’s the government’s business to mandate it. The senator thinks the answer to making child care more affordable is to improve the economy, providing more access to good jobs, rather than lowering the cost of child care. (Note: He’s also against raising the minimum wage.)
Gov. John Kasich doesn’t give us much more to work with. He said he doesn’t believe the government should mandate paid maternity leave, but said he personally thinks it would be swell if companies got creative and offered new moms work they could do from home online. (Never mind that: 1. Not all jobs can be done on a remote basis, and 2. If you’re working from home, it’s not technically “leave.”) But Kasich did express concern about the state of child care in his 2015 budget for Ohio, which made it easier for people who exceeded then-current income maxes to slowly taper off child care aid rather than suddenly losing it all, a situation that left some people in trouble, considering their earnings still weren’t nearly high enough to pay for child care themselves. However, the measure only helps a small number of people in Ohio, since most people lose aid for other reasons.
Donald Trump’s stance on paid parental leave is that people are discussing it. That’s all. Concerning child care, Trump said he thinks employers should provide it in-house, stating that some of the companies he runs do so. But he didn’t say he’d require anything of anyone, just that it’s easy enough to do.
Parental Leave and Child Care, 2017 On
If we have a Democratic president in 2017, we’re likely to at least see efforts to make child care more accessible and parental leave federally mandated. If a Republican wins in November, don’t hold your breath. This election is critical for women, parents, children, and low-income workers.