Young woman looking at a laptop, looking pensive.

Millennials Deserve Real Paid Leave and a Secure Retirement

As a generation, we’re subject to a constant barrage of stereotypes about those born in a nebulous period of time in the 1980s and 1990s. We’re self-centered. We’re entitled. We’re lazy. We’re “snowflakes.” We’re constantly tethered to our phones, yet hate phone calls (okay, that last one might be accurate).

In that media-painted portrait one of the most alarming common threads is the idea that wanting both enriching jobs and a sustainable life is somehow radical or unreasonable, especially as we inherit economic conditions that make it difficult to stay afloat, much less get ahead. Yet we should not be fooled by false choices, like a proposal currently being floated by a faux-feminist group with a troubling track record called the Independent Women’s Forum to purportedly provide paid parental leave in exchange for delaying your retirement benefits.

One part of the status quo that we (and many others) have dared to question is our country’s outdated and dangerous workplace leave laws. The only major federal workplace leave law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), just turned 25 (a Millennial for sure) and provides only unpaid leave. For those living paycheck-to-paycheck or struggling to cover student loans, unpaid leave is no leave at all. The FMLA also doesn’t cover everyone—an estimated 40% of American workers nationwide are left out. Low-income and part-time workers are disproportionately likely to be left out, as are younger workers across the board; in other words, an awful lot of members of the Buzzfeed generation do not even have the legal right to unpaid leave.

The Independent Women’s Forum proposal leaves a lot to be desired: it covers only parental leave, not leave for your own or a family member’s serious health needs or in connection with deployment. While the need for paid leave affects people of all generations, it can be especially important for those in our 20s and 30s. Many of us are welcoming children into our lives, through birth, adoption, or foster care. We live in one of only two countries in the entire world that provides no nationally guaranteed right to paid maternity leave, while fathers who dare to want to bond with their children are out of luck as well. But we aren’t just prospective parents. We’re dealing with serious health needs (while trying to keep our health insurance which is under constant attack). We’re caring for parents and other loved ones – nationwide, an estimated one in four caregivers are Millennials. We’re coping with the effects of deployment in a country that has been at war for most of our lives.

Moreover, the proposal does not protect your job while you’re on leave, meaning you could still be fired for taking the time you need. It provides meager benefits, especially for lower-income workers. Worst of all, the proposal does all of this by raiding Social Security. Many Millennials are struggling to pay our bills, much less save for retirement, making reliable benefits all the more important for our futures. Yet without Congressional action, Social Security is already in danger of not being able to pay the full benefits we have earned by the time we retire. We should be strengthening Social Security, not cutting benefits for our generation or taking dollars away from today’s retirees.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have both paid leave now and a secure Social Security system for our retirement. States are leading the way with paid leave laws that are already working for real families and a federal bill, the FAMILY Act, could provide comprehensive, sustainable paid leave nationwide. As a Millennial paid leave advocate, I know that we can and must do better than this, to ensure that we all can take the leave we need, when we need it, without risking our financial futures. Lawmakers should reject this false choice and get to work on building the social safety net we need not just for our generation, but for generations to come. That’s an issue worth an actual phone call.

Molly Weston Williamson is a staff attorney at A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy non-profit that fights for the ability of working people to care for themselves and their families without risking their economic security.

Molly Weston Williamson is a staff attorney at A Better Balance.

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