We believe now, more than ever before, our rapidly-growing city must take the lead on adopting paid parental leave.
SUNDAY will be a special Mother’s Day for new parents in San Francisco and New York state. Both mandated paid parental leave for their residents last month. Here in Washington state, we’re not quite as fortunate.
Thankfully, paid parental leave is finally gaining critical mass. Parental leave is featuring as a significant campaign issue in the 2016 presidential race, and more politicians are finally grasping our unenviable distinction of being the only developed country in the world that doesn’t mandate paid leave for new parents.
We’re encouraged to see other states and cities take action, and we believe that Seattle — the city that pioneered the $15 minimum wage, along with the city of SeaTac, before the rest of the country — can become a national leader on this important issue.
At one time, Washington state was leading the charge. Back in 2007, we passed a statewide law that would give parents $250 weekly for up to five weeks for a new child. But after funding became impossible to find post-recession, and new improvements to the bill were jettisoned year after year, the program remains defunct. Now, nearly a decade later, Washington state lawmakers are still unwilling to prioritize and fund paid family leave.
We believe now, more than ever, our rapidly growing city must take the lead on adopting paid parental leave.
Seattle became the national leader for workers’ rights by raising the minimum wage in 2014, strongly showcasing our desire to protect low-wage workers in a city that has witnessed income inequality rise year over year.
But raising the minimum wage is incomplete without supplementing it with paid parental leave. Only 13 percent of workers across America, and just 5 percent of low-wage workers, have access to paid parental leave, according to the nonprofit MomsRising.org.
Consider the makeup of low-wage workers: The majority are women, nearly one-third have children and, on average, these workers earn half of their family’s total income. For most new mothers, the prospect of unpaid leave is extremely challenging. For low-wage earning women, it’s close to unthinkable, even if available. Women are burdened to cobble together other forms of leave, at a time they and their families are at their most vulnerable.
But paid parental leave is good for all workers. When men are empowered to care for newborns, the benefit carries over to them and their children, too, not to mention how the burden of care lifts from mothers.
From an economic standpoint, paid parental leave has been demonstrated to increase labor-force participation and reduce spending on public assistance. Taken together, this has resulted in a sizable increase in gross domestic product in dozens of countries that implemented paid parental leave.
After years of political gridlock, lawmakers, advocates, businesses, women and families are rallying behind local efforts for paid parental leave. Here, Seattle can set the example once again nationally.
Major business associations like the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce tell us that paid family leave is important for parents and for our region’s workforce as a whole. In fact, it is one of the many policies the chamber is actively promoting through an initiative, 100 percent Talent.
Indeed, our new City Council has made serious inroads on municipal parental leave. Councilmembers M. Lorena González, Sally Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant are all prioritizing paid parental leave as a top legislative issue and have put tangible resources behind progressing this policy. In an unprecedented move, the Seattle Women’s Commission voted to make paid parental leave its top legislative priority for two years.
We’re at an inflection point in Seattle’s history. Never before in modern America has there been such a strong disparity between the haves and have-nots — the workers who enjoy months of company-paid parental leave versus the ones who can’t afford to take a few days off to give birth to a human.
Which Seattle do we want to leave for our next generation?