This week Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens issued an order giving most state workers paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child.
“Paid parental leave will strengthen families and communities,” Greitens’ proclamation says. The order was rightly welcomed by state employees.
But it did contain an interesting clause: “Primary” caregivers get six weeks off, fully paid. “Secondary” caregivers get just three weeks of paid parental leave. That could provoke some interesting discussions in the nursery.
Still, the order reflects the growing understanding among politicians in both parties that family concerns must be taken into account by employers in the public and private sectors.
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Businesses howled in the early 1990s when Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act. It requires businesses to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for various family considerations, including birth or adoption, illness or to care for a close relative.
Well into the 21st century, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed workers have abused the FMLA, causing headaches and morale problems for employers. Conservatives said even unpaid time off was an unacceptable burden on businesses and employers.
Those voices have largely gone silent. The Family and Medical Leave Act has proved enormously popular, and, since the time off is unpaid, the financial impact on companies has been relatively small.
President Donald Trump seems to understand this. While much of his administration is busily ravaging programs that help the working poor, his daughter Ivanka has been developing a proposal to provide 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child.
In fact, The New York Times reports, the plan may extend to mothers and fathers. And the plan would be paid for by — gasp — a tax increase.
That’s not all. The Trump administration may pursue additional tax credits and savings programs to pay child care expenses. There would be subsidies for lower-income workers with children.
Most Republicans aren’t sure what to make of all of this. Their DNA requires opposition to such massive federal intervention in employer-employee relations, not to mention the added taxes and fees now on the table.
Yet as Greitens has shown in Missouri, there is likely widespread support in both parties for more family-friendly policies. The governor’s time-off policy for state workers will cost taxpayers money, but there were few objections from either side of the aisle when he announced the plan.
In Washington, Democrats can help. It’s in their DNA to reject all things Trump, yet constructive compromise on paid family leave should be possible. The party should pursue a deal.
Young families confront uncertainty wherever they look. Two-earner families are almost essential in the modern economy, but child care remains expensive, even if child care providers are underpaid.
The economy will not collapse if the public and private sectors show more flexibility in dealing with those realities. Greitens has taken a step in Missouri, but it’s only a step.
Washington should follow.