Workplace

Parental leaves are great, but what about aging-parent leaves?

It’s easy to fall into a political quagmire about paid family leaves from work.

Most people agree it’s good for new mothers to have time off. But what about fathers? And what about the paid part?

Small employers often say they can’t afford to pay people who aren’t working. Some say they can’t even afford an unpaid worker to be gone for an extended period. And how long should leaves be, paid or unpaid?

Then this: A new analysis by the National Partnership for Women & Families says debates about family leave are misguided if they dwell on child care alone. That’s because Americans are living longer but not necessarily in good health. When older family members can’t manage independently, the help they need often falls to adult children who are employed.

The report, “Our Aging, Caring Nation: Why a U.S. Paid Leave Plan Must Provide More Than Time to Care for New Children,” analyzed demographics, workplace paid leave policies, financial effects and public policies, including the Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018.

“More than three in four people who take leave in this country do so to recover from serious illness or injuries, or to care for a seriously ill or injured parent, spouse, child or relative,” said partnership president Debra Ness. “Our analysis shows that no paid leave plan that leaves these people behind and ignores years of research will come close to addressing the needs of workers, families, businesses and our economy.”

The partnership has supported paid family leave for years. But that hasn’t yet made a difference for most working Americans. Only 14 percent of U.S. workers have paid family leave available through their jobs. Less than 40 percent have personal medical leave available through their temporary disability insurance plans.

The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualified workers. That covers about 60 percent of the workforce, but not those in private-sector businesses that employ fewer than 50. And many workers simply can’t afford to take unpaid leave.

The partnership’s report concludes that “the best solution is a national paid family and medical leave plan that is available to all working people, applies to women and men equally, provides at least 12 weeks of leave with meaningful benefits, covers the range of well-established reasons people need family and medical leave, protects against retaliation for needing or taking leave, and is affordable for workers and employers.”

That’s a worthy goal — with a near zero chance of success.

Such advocacy is commendable, but it addresses only part of the burden that weighs on people who juggle work and family caregiving. There’s no 12-week time limit on the care they give.

No leave program, paid or unpaid, can address the long-term push and pull of workers who want to do well by their employers and their families.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

  Comments