Republican presidential candidate and current Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was asked by a member of the work/family policy organization Make It Work about paid family leave at the Iowa State Fair. In response, he said that while he values paid leave, he doesn’t support any requirement that companies actually offer it to workers.
“I think maternity leave and paternity leave are wonderful things. I support them personally,” he said in remarks released in video on Friday. “But I don’t think the federal government should be in the business of mandating them.”
Yet without a mandate, more than 70 percent of employers offer no paid maternity leave and more than 80 percent don’t offer paid paternity leave. That leaves 88 percent of the workforce without paid family leave if they have a new child.
Some companies have recently made news for offering generous paid leave benefits, like the year of unlimited leave introduced at Netflix. Other tech companies have beefed up their leave policies. But those benefits mostly flow to high-income, white-collar workers. The less someone makes, the less likely they are to get paid family leave from work. Just 5 percent of the lowest-paid workers get paid maternity or paternity leave, while 21 percent of the highest paid can count on it.
And a lack of paid leave creates significant financial complications for many families. A third of those who get partial pay or no pay after the arrival of a new baby has to borrow money, while another third dips into savings and another puts off paying bills (and some may be doing all three). Fifteen percent have to enroll in public benefit programs just to get by. A quarter of “poverty spells,” or episodes of poverty that last for two months or more at a time, begin with the birth of a child.
The lack of a paid maternity leave mandate puts the United States in company with just two other countries in the entire world: Oman and Papua New Guinea. Seventy countries mandate paid paternity leave.
But introducing a requirement in the U.S. wouldn’t necessarily be complicated. Three states already have paid family leave programs, and they operate by deducting a small amount of workers’ paychecks to go to a fund that pays out when workers need to take time off. A bill that would create a federal program has now been introduced twice, which would ensure 12 weeks of paid leave a year for a new child through worker contributions of 0.2 percent of wages, or about $2 a week on average.
These programs don’t end up costing businesses, and in fact in the states that have set them up, employers are supportive. In California, the vast majority report that paid leave has had either a positive impact or none at all on profitability, employee performance, and productivity, and it’s also helped reduce turnover. The majority in New Jersey say it hasn’t hurt their finances and has come with some of the same benefits.