Opinion: Paid family leave should be implemented in the United States

Melinda Burgin

Image by Liam Killian with photos from Wiki Commons

The Build Back Better Act promises to change the lives of millions of Americans for the better and is one of the most discussed and controversial moves of the Biden administration.  The Build Back Better Act includes investments in affordable healthcare and childcare, veteran’s affairs and even free preschool for all. 

The act has taken serious cuts now over fears that its expense will prevent Congress from passing it. One of these changes includes removing the mandate of four weeks of paid family leave. A majority of Americans across party lines were disappointed in the removal of this component, as it is one that is key to the success for middle and low class families. Paid parental leave allows newborns of all socioeconomic statuses to experience the developmental benefits of early attachment to parents and improves the health and economic stability of families overall.

The United States is the only major world power where paid parental leave is not nationally required. Though places of employment are required to provide unpaid parental leave, it is not an option for many families. In recent years, over 90 percent of families had access to some form of parental leave, only around 55 percent were actually able to take any form of leave.  This low number can be attributed to the fact that only 17 percent of families have access to paid family leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only eight states currently require paid parental leave, leaving most of the country without any guarantee of time with their newborn or recently adopted children. 

The research also supports a mandate of paid parental leave. Bonding with their mother and father in the first few weeks of an infant’s life is crucial to their development, and a lack of parental contact can influence their mental health for years to come. In the first three years of a child’s life, their brain grows at an astonishing rate of 700–1000 synapse connections per second. During this rapid intense growth period, babies are easily influenced by their environment, as every experience they have with caregivers becomes literally hardwired into the way they see the world. Children who do not experience a strong attachment with their caregivers are at a higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression and learning disabilities, as well as difficulty forming healthy relationships well into adulthood, according to the London Journal of Primary Care. If parents are prevented from taking time to bond with their children by financial constraints, generations of children growing up in lower income families have their growth stunted and their future prospects diminished.  

Paid family leave is also proven to significantly impact a family’s economic stability. In the results of California implementing paid parental leave, the poverty risk among mothers lowered by 10.2 percent and family income levels rose by 4.1 percent according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The program also reduced the risk of food insecurity for lower income families. Some may be concerned about the cost of implementing paid family leave for all, these results show that this change could actually reduce government spending in welfare programs in the long term, as families are better able to support themselves. The developmental benefits can also carry into economic interests, as the children of low income families may need less government sponsored interventions for mental health or developmental issues as they benefit from increased time with their caregivers.  

The addition of paid family leave would be a key step towards ending the cycle of poverty in America, allowing low income families and their children the best possible chance of success.