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Paid family and medical leave needed for all Hoosiers


Paid family and medical leave needed for all Hoosiers

Nov 16, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Richard Petts
Paid family and medical leave needed for all Hoosiers
Fourteen states (plus Washington, DC) have enacted comprehensive paid family leave legislation. Although similar bills have been introduced in Indiana, none have received a hearing. (Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee recently held its first full hearing on paid family and medical leave, an issue that has seen increased attention in recent years given that most Americans support paid family and medical leave.

Additionally, 14 states (plus Washington, DC) have enacted comprehensive paid family leave legislation. Although similar bills have been introduced in Indiana, none have received a hearing.

It is time for Indiana to take action toward supporting, and ultimately implementing, comprehensive paid family leave for all Hoosiers.

As a member of the International Network on Leave Policies & Research and an active researcher on leave policies and leave-taking, my colleagues and I have found that paid leave is beneficial to individuals, families, businesses, and societies more broadly. Overall, when parents have access to, and are able to take, parental leave, it is linked to a host of positive outcomes including better health for mothers and children, increased father involvement, greater co-parenting support, more stable parental relationships, and closer relationships with children.

Beyond families, paid family leave increases perceived employee commitment and productivity, and recent evidence shows that businesses – even small businesses – report no negative effects of paid family leave policies in states that have implemented this legislation. Paid family leave also helps to promote greater gender equality in both work and family life. Simply put, all empirical evidence supports the passage and implementation of paid family and medical leave – which explains why the vast majority of countries throughout the world offer some form of paid family leave.

My experience

As a father, I was denied the ability to take paid leave when my children were born as my employer did not have a paid leave policy that applied to men at the time. I am in the privileged position of having a flexible job, and so I was able to work remotely for two months when my son was born. But this is a luxury that most US workers — particularly those in low-wage and precarious jobs — do not have.

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The need for paid leave became even more evident to me when my daughter (my second child) was born. Minutes after birth she was fighting for her life with an undiagnosed lung problem in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She was eventually transferred to Riley Hospital for Children where we were told that she was the sickest baby in the NICU and that we would likely be there for a long time. Because she was born at the end of the semester, I was able to stay at the hospital with her the entire time.

Along with my wife, we advocated for her health and were able to be involved in crucial decisions that likely had a significant impact on her health and survival. Again, this was a luxury that many families did not have. Few rooms in the NICU had two parents in them regularly, and many did not even have one — presumably because only 27% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave. Most parents cannot afford to take extended periods of unpaid time off, especially in situations when there will be impending medical expenses (my daughter’s stay at Riley amounted to approximately $500,000).

The stress of having to even think about work when your child is in the hospital is something no parent should have to experience, yet this is a reality in the United States. I am pleased to report that Riley saved my daughter’s life, and she is a happy, healthy nine year old. We owe this to the excellent care she received from doctors and nurses, but also to the fact that we were able to be involved every step of the way.

Access to paid leave is a right that exists for most people throughout the world, and is something that Hoosiers (and all Americans) should have as well. Paid leave is an urgent need that has significant health, financial, and relational consequences for families and businesses. For Indiana to truly be a state that works for everyone, we need legislation that provides paid family and medical leave to all Hoosiers.