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[COMMENTARY] I Needed Paid Family Leave to Take Care of My Family. So Do All Americans.

[COMMENTARY] I Needed Paid Family Leave to Take Care of My Family. So Do All Americans.

“I can’t feel my body.” My heart sank when my wife said that during the delivery of our first child. No one had prepared us for what would happen to her when her anesthesia didn’t go as planned. No one told us about the long-lasting effects of bleeding complications on her breast milk supply. 

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

From the moment labor and delivery started, our family faced all sorts of stressors. But one thing we escaped was the financial stress that comes with having a child. This was largely because I had paid family leave, something only 9% of fathers in the US have access to.

It wasn’t just the lack of financial stress. It was being able to give my wife a full night of sleep every night so she could recover and build her milk supply. Or taking my daughter to all of her post-natal appointments. Most importantly,  it was doing the majority of daytime feeds and diaper changes for the first six weeks while my wife recovered from the traumas of delivery. 

Every parent deserves that same experience to adjust to the rigors of parenthood without worrying about their finances.

Today America is one of only six countries with no national paid leave policy. On November 19, House Democrats passed the Build Back Better Act bringing the US the closest it has ever been to having four weeks of paid family leave. They’re coming up against opposition from people like Senator Joe Manchin and Tucker Carlson who don’t believe paid family leave is important or valuable.

Maybe they’re right, but Americans across the political spectrum disagree.

In 2018, the National Partnership for Women and Families conducted an extensive survey to understand how Americans feel about paid family leave. The findings are staggering. Democrats (94%), Independents (83%), and Republicans (74%) support a policy that would cover all working people who need leave to care for a new or adopted child, among other reasons. In addition, 66% of voters said they would face serious financial hardship if they needed to take a few months of unpaid leave for family reasons.

In a survey conducted by Financial Health Network, they found that workers with paid leave for medical or caregiving purposes were 14% more likely to report low or no financial stress.

Not only does paid family leave make financial sense, but, as I experienced, it made a positive impact on fathers. According to a 2019 study by Boston College, 96% of men found they had a deeper bond with their child; 92% said they had greater confidence in their ability as a caretaker; 88 % said they had a greater sense of life satisfaction. Finally, 83% said they had a stronger relationship with their partner.

In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, as millions of Americans question the role of work in their life, we need a serious expansion of paid family leave. It makes our lives richer and more fulfilling. It reduces financial stress on families trying to live their best life. It takes us closer to the American Dream being attainable for everybody.

See Also

The advocacy group Paid Leave for All has launched a national campaign with online resources for supporters who want to take action, including a form letter that can be sent to senators and representatives urging passage. I encourage you to go to their site, donate, and take action.

We are closer than we’ve ever been before to making paid family leave a reality. Let’s pressure Senator Manchin to get this done.

About the Author:

Saatvik Ahluwalia is a Digital Director at Progress Texas and Austin Asian Civic Communities Coalition. He is also a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project. His work has been covered in the Boston Globe, Austin American-Statesman, Austin NPR, VISIBLE Magazine, and more. 

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