Viewpoint: Paid leave works and it will work for Delaware
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored a simple truth: we can’t keep our economy going when we force workers to choose between their job and their family’s health.
As we seek to build a bridge to the other side of the pandemic, we continue to experience worker shortages that have undermined our economic recovery. A care system stretched to the brink has left many – particularly women – to take on greater responsibilities in caring for loved ones, from children to aging parents. Couple that reality with a lack of flexible leave policies, and many workers have chosen their health and their family in making the decision to leave the workforce. Commentators have dubbed it the “she-cession.”
This COVID-exacerbated crisis of care has set the United States’ back as much as ten years in women’s workforce participation. That is a startling reversal considering the fact that, despite leading the world in women’s workforce participation decades ago, America had already fallen behind other developed nations in women’s workforce participation long before COVID hit. And while eventually conquering this pandemic will bring some worker’s back into the fold, without smarter, long-term reforms, we will fall further behind. Otherwise capable workers will continue to opt-out of the workforce entirely.
Fortunately, we have solutions. By adopting policies that empower people to take care of their health and support caregivers in their responsibilities, we can put people back to work while also doing right by families facing the challenging joys of raising a child or the frightening stress of a serious illness. That is why every other industrialized nation, and nine states plus Washington DC, have decided to create some form of a paid family and medical leave insurance program – and it’s why Delaware should do the same.
State paid leave programs are proven to improve workforce participation, including keeping new parents in their jobs and extending the careers of older workers. Recent polling from the Bipartisan Policy Center also makes clear that paid leave policies are key to attracting people back to work, with 38% of unemployed workers in the survey saying that access paid family leave policies – and the flexibility they provide to fulfill caregiving responsibilities – would make them more likely to return to work sooner.
The appeal of these benefits is why more and more large corporations are providing the benefit on their own. Almost daily advertisements from Amazon fill social media feeds seeking to attract younger workers by showcasing that the company provides up to 20 weeks of paid leave. But without a statewide insurance program – by far the most affordable way to deliver paid leave – many small and medium sized businesses struggle to provide the benefit on their own, putting those smaller employers at a competitive disadvantage for talent. It’s a competition that has only gotten fiercer since COVID.
The clear benefits of paid leave are why businesses both support these policies and report positive outcomes in the states that have already implemented these programs. More than 70% of small businesses in a recent poll supported national paid leave policies. In California, more than 90% of businesses report that paid leave has either had no impact or a positive impact on the bottom line, reducing costs surrounding recruitment, retention, and training of new staff. Small businesses were even more likely than large businesses to report those positive impacts.
Now more than ever, Delaware needs paid family and medical leave to keep people working and healthy. That is why last year I introduced Senate Bill 1, the Health Delaware Families Act, after extensive conversations with business owners, workers, and health care providers. The legislation, which is modeled after existing policies in states of all sizes that were sponsored across the country by both Democrats and Republicans, establishes a 12-week paid family and medical leave statewide insurance program to provide partial wage replacement for Delawareans taking leave to welcome a child into their family, get treatment for a serious health condition, or care for a loved facing an illness.
Passing this legislation would help to end the days of parents being forced to fundraise for lost wages when their child is diagnosed with cancer. It would remove the burden from businesses that through the goodness of their hearts try to be there for their employees during major life events, but struggle without the guidance or support that a statewide insurance program offers. And it would improve outcomes for patients, children, and businesses alike.
Change can be hard, but to win the future we need to innovate and modernize. Paid leave is a win for workers and a win for businesses. Its a necessity in a modern economy. And it’s time in Delaware has come.
Sen. Sarah McBride represents the First Senate District and chairs the Senate Health & Social Services Committee.