baby playing with block with text: "paid parental leave"

President Obama calls for paid sick and parental leave for all

The movement to ensure that everyone can take a day off from work if they or their family are sick has been gaining steam over the last few years, thanks to the collaboration of feminist and labor forces. And today, President Obama is calling for the passage of a federal paid sick leave policy, as well as a new plan to help extend paid parental leave to all Americans.

While three states and 16 cities now have paid sick day laws, without a federal policy like this, roughly 40 percent of (mostly low-income) workers still don’t have access to this modest benefit that every other developed country besides the US requires. The new law would apply to businesses with 15 or more employees, and the White House estimates it would extend sick leave to 43 million workers who currently lack it.

mapping paid maternity leave

Image via ThinkProgress

The President is also requiring that federal employees get at least six weeks of paid sick leave when a new child arrives and calling on Congress to offer six weeks of paid administrative leave as well. To help the rest of us, he’s dedicating funding to help states set up their own paid family leave programs. Currently only three states have them, and the US is not just the only developed country without a national paid maternity leave law — let alone paternity leave — but one of the only countries, period. Nationwide, only 12 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers and less than half of us even get the unpaid leave extended to some under current federal law. (The fact that American families continue to have babies in such a context truly boggles the mind; a child-bearing boycott seems long overdue.)

“One fact is resoundingly clear,” White House advisor Valerie Jarrett writes. “The fundamental structure of our workplaces has simply not kept pace with the changing American family.” This isn’t just bad for the economy as a whole but, as Stephanie Coontz argued last year, it’s also one of the biggest reasons that the movement toward gender equality has hit a wall: these godawful work-family policies create “structural impediments” that “prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values.”

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St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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