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Column: It’s time for paid family leave to be a priority in Michigan


Column: It’s time for paid family leave to be a priority in Michigan

Aug 29, 2023 | 4:40 am ET
By Danielle Atkinson
Column: It’s time for paid family leave to be a priority in Michigan
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Raise your hand if you have ever been sick or needed to take care of someone who is? Keep your hand up if this happened when you were supposed to go into work. Thanks for participating in this ridiculous exercise to demonstrate how universal this scenario is. 

We all get sick but not everyone has the time to get well. Many people in our state and country are put in stressful financial positions just to care for themselves and the people who depend on them. And while this is a majority of people, those burdened by this the most are Black and Brown women, a group that is over-represented in our caregiving spaces. Black and Brown women not only care for their own families, but they care for our youngest and most vulnerable communities. 

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, 81% of Black mothers are the sole breadwinner in their households. There is a growing reality for mothers in this country where families are left to worry about job security and finding income to pay bills while on leave. Nobody should have to choose between caring for a sick loved one or paying the bills, which is why implementing paid family leave should be a priority.

Since 2018, Mothering Justice has been leading the fight for paid family medical leave – and our work isn’t over. Michigan currently does not have a paid family medical leave law. Over 30 million workers, including 67% of low-wage workers, many of whom are Black women, do not have access to a single paid leave day. This is an alarming number when we know that all workers, regardless of income level or job status, deserve the ability to take paid family medical leave. 

Paid family leave for all workers would allow our families to focus on their health and thrive. Whether you have a sick kid who has to stay home from school or a loved one who needs help getting to a cancer treatment appointment, the logistics of being able to care for them can be burdensome, especially when it comes to taking time off of work. 

Paid family leave in Michigan is not an outrageous ask. Right now, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave for members of its workforce. Michigan can be a leader in guaranteeing this for working families and join the 11 other states who have implemented paid family leave.  

Family leave is a necessity that many cannot afford, and many American caregivers are waking up to the same reality that Black women have been living with every day for decades. And while Black women are disproportionately represented when it comes to basic needs such as paid leave, this isn’t a problem we must fight alone. How do you provide the money your family needs while also giving them the care they depend on? ALL families deserve paid leave, not just some. 

For years, bills that would require employers to provide paid family medical leave for all workers have languished in the state legislature (as well as federally). Mothering Justice and its allies are fighting for all of our families, regardless of where you work or what your income is, to receive the same benefits that everyone deserves. Paid family leave is a workers’ rights issue, an economic justice issue, a racial justice issue, and a gender equity issue and we’re proud to work with champions like State Sen. Erika Geiss on this critical need for all workers. 

When considering a paid family leave policy, lawmakers must consider this need from an equity standpoint to ensure that those who would be most impacted will benefit. Paid leave needs an inclusive family definition that reflects the realities of today’s diverse families, whether related by blood or affinity, which is the same standard that applies to the federal workforce. There is a real economic benefit to ensuring that mothers of color, especially Black mothers like myself, are equipped to deal with family illness. We’re the lifeblood of our communities and our family, so it’s up to our lawmakers to recognize this.