At a recent campaign stop in Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush stood opposed to ensuring that American workers are offered paid family leave.
After being asked by an activist with the pro-family leave group Make It Work about his stance on mandating paid maternity leave, he first replied, “That’s a state decision.” When pressed, he added, “I don’t think we need more federal rules.”
The United States is one of just three countries around the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. While some employers offer it voluntarily, just 12 percent of American workers can access it at their workplace. Low-income workers, those who are least likely to be able to afford unpaid time off to spend with a new child, are even less likely to get paid family leave.
The states also haven’t made very fast progress so far: Just three have paid family leave programs in place. But they have already produced evidence that it isn’t harmful to employers. The vast majority of businesses in California report that it’s had either a positive impact on profitability, employee performance, and productivity or none at all, while the majority of those in New Jersey say it hasn’t been harmful to their bottom lines.
Without paid leave, however, many families suffer severe financial consequences. A third who get either partial pay or no pay when they take time off for a new baby either borrow money, dip into savings, put off paying bills, or a combination of all three, while 15 percent have to enroll in public benefits to scrape by. And the lack of a paid leave mandate is part of why other developed countries are outpacing the U.S. in women’s labor force participation.
Other presidential candidates have also weighed in on the topic of paid leave. Republican contenders Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz have both sided with Bush in saying that the U.S. doesn’t need a mandate, while Marco Rubio took a different approach by proposing a plan to encourage employers to offer it while still declining to institute a blanket policy for all workers. Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley support a plan that would create a national insurance-like system to give people 12 weeks of paid leave.
Bush came under fire for suggesting that Americans need to put more hours in at work to reach his goal of annual 4 percent GDP growth. Yet he has also stated his opposition to the Obama administration’s proposed change to overtime rules, which could have the effect of tamping down on the ever-lengthening workweek and give people more time to spend at home with their families.
At another event in Iowa, a different Make It Work activist stood up and asked him about what he would do to ensure equal pay for women, given that they still make just 79 percent of what men make. While he said he doesn’t believe “you should get 75 cents less for the same work that you do” and that “there should be parity,” he also added, “There are laws on the books to enforce that.”
Yet with current laws, there hasn’t been progress in closing the wage gap between what women and men make when they work full time, year round in a decade. Women still make less than men in virtually every job and at every higher education level they achieve.