Opinion

Paid family leave is essential for a thriving New York economy

By David Bolotsky |  

March 25, 2016 |  

There’s a bill before the New York state Legislature that is refreshing in its bipartisan approach to a real challenge facing working families. Paid family leave legislation has passed the state Assembly; Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put forth his own strong bill; and just this week, the state Senate included a robust paid family leave proposal in its one-house budget resolution. As an entrepreneur, father, son and husband, I strongly support this incredibly important piece of legislation, and know that it is essential for a thriving economy in our state.

The New York state Paid Family Leave Act would require a contribution by all employees (about $25 per year) and would cover up to 12 weeks of paid family leave in the event of the birth of a child or the need to care for a sick or dying relative. I use the word “bipartisan” because I truly believe it should appeal to policymakers – and citizens – on both sides of the political spectrum. For one, paid family leave benefits will be 100 percent paid for by small employee contributions, with zero cost to employers. This is a “rainy day” insurance fund that is much like unemployment insurance, but the cost is not shared by employers.

This bill also provides workers with the right to return to their jobs after taking family leave. No one should have to feel – during some of life’s most stressful times – that they must choose between their work and caring for their new infant or dying relative. When workers are unable to return to their job after taking family leave, they are often pushed out of the workforce altogether. Onestudy estimated that men who leave the labor force early due to caring for an aging parent lose almost $90,000 in wages, while women who do so lose over $140,000 in wages. Meanwhile, having children care for parents is the kind of family values that both political parties should agree on.

Furthermore, taxpayers save when families help provide direct care, rather than outsourcing this role. Women who take paid leave after having a baby are more likely to be working nine to 12 months after the birth than women who take no leave. And fewer people being pushed out of the workforce means fewer taxpayer dollars going toward government assistance. Both men and women who return to work after taking paid leave are much less likely to receive public assistance in the year following their child’s birth than those who return to work without taking family leave.

The immediate benefits of paid family leave are obvious: New parents and infants can experience important developmental bonding, and those with dying loved ones can spend precious time with family and have the necessary time to grieve before returning to being a productive worker – all without sacrificing wages and job security. The long-term benefits are also clear: investing in parent-child bonding will lead to happier, more productive individuals and a stronger, more successful society. It’s hard to argue with.

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not mandate some form of paid family leave. Although California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have enacted paid family leave laws, New York has not. In fact, in New York, 6.4 million workers do not have paid family leave. Many employers would love to provide paid family leave but do not want to do so without the benefit of an employee-funded insurance system like the one currently being proposed.

UncommonGoods offers paid family leave, and I can tell you firsthand that it generates more loyal workers, less turnover and a more engaged team. States that have enacted similar legislation show numbers echoing our experience: In California, 93 percent of employers reported that paid family leave had a positive or neutral effect on employee turnover, saving employers the costly step of replacing an existing employee. A majority of California employers also reported positive or neutral effects on productivity (89 percent), profitability/performance (91 percent), and employee morale (99 percent).

The New York state Paid Family Leave Act will help New Yorkers keep their jobs, save for their future, recover from illness and die with dignity. Let’s make the government work for everyone – especially those who are struggling to balance their professional and family obligations.

David Bolotsky is the founder and CEO of UncommonGoods in Brooklyn.

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