From Claire Cain Miller’s Upshot post, “Obama Says Family Leave Is an Economic Necessity, Not Just a Women’s Issue“:
The percentage of women in the labor force in the United States is declining, even as it continues to rise in other high-income countries…The United States is the only high-income country not to require paid leave for workers. Britain gives new mothers 52 weeks; Italy gives 22 weeks; and Japan gives 14 weeks. The president said the government would provide $2.2 billion to reimburse states for paid family leave programs, and called for Congress to pass a bill that would enable workers to earn seven paid sick days. His plan also included creating more child care and giving families a child-care tax cut of up to $3,000 per child per year.
At Demos, Sharon Lerner adds:
…Obama’s spotlight on paid family leave–or, rather, the lack of paid family leave–is incredibly valuable. Having time off to care for new babies is not just the law in the developed world, it’s policy in virtually every other poor country as well. (Yes, Afghanistan, Chad, and Vietnam are ahead of us on this) In the U.S., too, the idea of giving workers time off after having a new baby has wide appeal, though the support is easy to miss–both because proponents have been unsuccessful in getting paid family leave for almost a century, and because opponents tend to frame this as a typical partisan issue, with Democrats on one side and Republicans on another.
Paid family leave isn’t a typical partisan issue, though; it is a beloved policy on both on both sides of the aisle–or at least among voters in both parties. Recent polls show 55 percent of Republican women supporting The FAMILY Act, which would provide workers with up to 12 weeks off paid to care for a new baby or deal with their own or a relative’s serious illness. And 62 percent of Republicans as well as 70 percent of working men polled in 2009 agreed with the statement that “businesses should be “required to provide paid family and medical leave for every worker who needs it.”
Yet, while most Republicans see the value in paid family leave, Republican lawmakers still don’t for the most part, putting them in a politically untenable position that they won’t want to inhabit for long. By bringing the issue to the fore, Obama is garnering the approval of reasonable folks in both parties and drawing attention to the gulf between these Republican officeholders and their constituents. So when the White House highlights the fact that only 11 percent of workers are covered by formal paid family leave policies, for instance, they’re underscoring both the dire need for paid family leave–and the brute insensitivity of those opposing it.
Democrats can expect strong support from women in 2016, not just because of the popularity of our women leaders in recent opinion polls, but also because Republicans oppose nearly every reform that could make life a little easier for working women. What Republicans fear even more about President Obama’s paid family leave initiative is that it could give Democrats a strong edge with a constituency of growing importance — young parents and couples planning to have children.