Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both announced plans this week to give all U.S. workers the right to 12 weeks of paid family leave — time employees could take off to care for a newborn baby, an elderly parent, or a sick spouse. Both of the leading Democratic candidates for president lament that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world to offer no paid family leave, but they split on how such a program should be funded.
On Friday, Sanders proposed funding three months of paid leave through a small payroll tax on workers, which the campaign estimates would charge a typical worker $1.61 a week. He and a group of 18 Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to do this, dubbed the FAMILY Act.
Clinton, however, is not on board with this scheme. Slamming Sanders for endorsing an additional tax on workers, she has vowed to fund her paid family leave plan though “a combination of tax reforms impacting the most fortunate.” Exactly what kind of tax and on whom is not specified. Employees must also have served a company for a certain number of hours to qualify for her plan, though that threshold is similarly not defined. She also did not specify whether small business employees — at companies with 50 or fewer workers — would qualify.
These proposals for about three months of paid family leave would be a massive jump over the zero days now available to U.S. workers, who are entitled under current law to 12 weeks of leave without pay. Yet both Sanders and Clinton’s plans would still leave the U.S. behind most of the world, giving workers less time off than they would get in Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Vietnam.
Some individual states and corporations have implemented their own paid family leave programs, but they cover only about 12 percent of workers. The consequences for those not covered are stark. A quarter of women either quit their jobs or are let go when a new child arrives, and of those who get only partial pay or nothing at all, a third borrow money and/or dip into savings while 15 percent go on public assistance.
On Friday, Sanders’ criticized Clinton for refusing to back his Senate bill, saying his payroll tax plan is similar to existing social programs.
“Medicare is strong because we’re all involved in it. Social Security is strong because we’re all involved in it,” he said. “This isn’t a tax that could be repealed in a few years.”
The Clinton campaign shot back, “Hillary strongly believes that middle class families deserve a raise, not a tax increase. American families need paid leave, and to get there, Hillary will ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.”