We are the only developed country without paid parental leave. We can change that.
MONDAY, we announced our plan to create a paid parental leave benefit for employees of the City of Seattle. We envision that parents — foster, adoptive or birthparents, regardless of gender — would have access to four paid weeks of leave to bond with their new child.
While ours is the first benefit of its kind for public employers in a major Northwest city, the United States remains the only developed country in the world without paid parental leave. It is time for our country to recognize the importance of this issue and respond with appropriate policies that support our workers and their families.
The first few months of a baby’s life are a crucial time for brain development and parental bonding. Our new policy would allow parents with newborns the opportunity and time to care for their young children, which would lead to better futures for children and parents. It would also give parents who adopt or foster children meaningful time off in order to establish a bond with their new family members.
Based on the number of parents with newborns we have seen in Seattle city government over a recent two-year period, we expect the cost of this program to be less than $1.35 million a year. We believe this is a terrific investment for families.
President Obama announced a similar policy at the federal level, providing six weeks of parental leave for federal workers, during his State of the Union address. We’re proud of our city for recognizing that strong foundations for our families are good — not only for parents and children but for our community as a whole. It’s the right thing to do.
We hope our actions at the city will encourage other local and regional employers to offer a similar benefit.
This policy is also a step toward achieving gender equity in the workplace. A paid parental leave benefit protects women’s earning potential and helps keep them in the workforce after giving birth. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that California’s statewide parental leave resulted in new mothers returning to work at a higher rate and earning higher incomes over time.
Additionally, a parental leave policy could help level parenting expectations for men and women by supporting parental time off regardless of gender. This program would benefit women by reducing the tendency to prioritize men’s careers. Traditionally, women are seen as having a greater obligation for child care. The American family is changing and we must reflect their needs in our policies.
With the support of our city labor partners and council, we expect to draft and enact this new policy within a few months.
It’s true, we still have a long way to go toward gender equity. However, we are taking a decisive step toward changing our culture and bringing outdated workforce policies into better alignment with actual workforce demographics.
It’s time to catch up with the rest of the world and invest in our talented employees. For too long, women have shouldered unfair expectations and burdens and had to make difficult choices between career and family. By investing in paid parental leave, we’re creating a stronger city, region and society for all.