Why paid family and medical leave should be the defining issue of 2019

Two years ago, Maggie Ahrenbach and her husband were expecting their first child. An attorney in the State Attorney General’s office, Maggie was overjoyed, but she was also worried about being able to cobble together enough annual and sick leave to bond with her daughter without sacrificing her income. That changed in 2017 when the Missouri Governor and other statewide officeholders granted their employees six weeks of paid parental leave to bond with a newborn or adopted child.


“Instantly,” Maggie said, “a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I would not have to meticulously calculate how many hours I could afford to use for doctor appointments and ultrasounds. I could schedule appointments as I needed them and not have to worry whether I was going to be dipping into my maternity leave reserve.”

Last month, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer followed suit, making Kansas the 15th state to provide paid parental leave to all or some of their workforce by signing an executive order extending the benefit to more than 17,000 Kansas state employees.

This progress is another indication that – more than two years since then-candidate Donald Trump added paid family leave to his presidential campaign platform – momentum continues to build around this family- and business-friendly policy.

As an organization that uses research to develop solutions that empower women and their families economically, we know paid family and medical leave is a clear win-win for women, families and our economy as a whole.

Our research has found that paid family leave programs prevent families from falling into poverty, reduce reliance on public assistance, help employers recruit and retain talented employees and increase worker productivity.

That’s why it’s frustrating that 88 percent of private sector employees lack access to paid family leave, and the U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world without a nationwide paid leave program.

In 2019, state legislators will have another opportunity to make sure no parent has to choose between caring for a child and keeping their paycheck – by expanding paid family and medical leave statewide.

Here are five reasons why legislators should prioritize paid family and medical leave this year.

  1. Stronger Families. First, there is strong evidence that paid family leave programs have a positive impact on the health and well-being of families – reducing infant mortality, increasing birth weight and improving rates of breastfeeding. At a Congressional hearing on the issue, Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy noted that mothers who take paid leave are 50 percent less likely to be readmitted to the hospital after giving birth.

  2. Stronger Businesses. In 2014, the White House Council on Economic Advisors concluded that paid family and medical leave programs can improve long-term productivity by boosting recruitment, retention and employee motivation.

  3. Reduced Reliance on Public Assistance. One study found women who take paid family leave are 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance or food stamps in the year following a child’s birth, compared to women who take no leave.

  4. Immeasurable Benefits – for the Cost of a Cup of Coffee Per Week. Paid family and medical leave offers families an immeasurable sense of security and stability – for pennies per day. For example, an employee payroll contribution of 0.25 percent comes out to about the cost of a cup of coffee per week for the average worker.

  5. Bipartisan Support. In today’s highly polarized political climate, paid family and medical leave is one of those rare issues that receives support from people on both sides of the partisan divide. According to Pew, 82 percent of Americans say mothers should have paid maternity leave, while nearly 70 percent support paid paternity leave.

Earlier this year, the President’s daughter and senior advisor Ivanka Trump wrote on FoxNews.com that “paid family leave is targeted government action with the right incentives – designed to increase the independence, health and dignity of our citizens.”

We couldn’t agree more.

This year, Missouri legislators have an opportunity to change lives and strengthen our economy by passing a statewide paid family and medical leave program that will benefit families and businesses alike.