Senator Marco Rubio just made a small bit of history: He became the first of his party to put forward a national paid family leave program. On Aug. 2, he introduced a bill that would allow any American to take paid time off to be with a new child.
It marks a surprising step forward: Paid family leave has become bipartisan. Unfortunately, smart policy design has not. Instead of creating a new, desperately needed benefit, Mr. Rubio’s bill would make parents cash in their retirement to take care of their children today.
All developed countries — except for the United States — guarantee at least some paid maternity leave, ranging from six weeks in Portugal to 43 weeks in Greece. Americans are only entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
Even securing unpaid time off was a bruising political battle. The former speaker of the House, John Boehner, called unpaid family leave “another example of yuppie empowerment,” and Representative Cass Ballenger reportedly smeared it as “socialism.” The unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act suffered twovetoes from President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, and was signed into law only after Bill Clinton, a Democrat, won the White House.
More large companies like Starbucks and Walmart are starting to see the value in paid leave and other benefits for parents, including hourly workers, though big disparities remain.
As the labor market tightens, employers have been competing for highly educated workers by trying to make it easier for them to do their jobs and also have families — benefits like egg freezing or reduced schedules for new parents.
Now, some employers are beginning to address the same challenge for lower-wage workers, starting with paid family leave.
On Wednesday, Starbucks announced raises and stock grants for all employees in the United States, along with new benefits aimed specifically at workers with family caregiving responsibilities: paid time off to care for sick family members and paid paternity leave for hourly employees.
It followed the announcement by Walmart this month that it was raising pay and adding family-friendly benefits. It gave full-time hourly workers the same paid parental leave as salaried ones and said it would help pay for adoptions, including for hourly workers.