Washington, D.C. city employees can now take paid family leave, unlike most other employees in the United States.
Mayor Vincent Gray (D) made the announcement on Tuesday, saying that effective Wednesday, city workers can take up to eight paid weeks off for the birth or adoption of a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member. Employees working for the federal government in the nation’s capitol don’t even fare as well as city workers; the White House provides just six weeks of paid family leave, although employees can use other accrued leave for another six weeks. Overall, just 15 percent of those who work for local governments have access to paid leave and 18 percent of state government employees have it.
Even those low percentages in the public sector are much better than what private sector workers can expect, however. Unlike virtually every country around the world, the United States doesn’t have a national requirement that employers offer paid maternity leave, let alone paid paternity leave. Employers are only required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave, although thanks to the strict requirements, less than half of workers are even able to get that time off. The lack of a national program leaves just just 12 percent of the private sector workforce with paid family leave benefits.
Things are different for the residents of three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — who are guaranteed paid family leave. More could soon join them. DC also received a $96,281 grant from the Department of Labor to study the feasibility and impact of enacting paid family leave for the entire city. That’s part of a $500,000 package handed out to three other states as well: Massachusetts, Montana, and Rhode Island.
A federal bill to require paid family leave for all of the country’s workers was introduced in December, but it hasn’t moved forward yet.
Paid family leave helps employees avoid financial hardship after the arrival of a new baby and better bond with their children. But it’s also good for the economy, helping to keep people in the labor force, reduce the amount of time women spend out of it, and even increase the number of working people. Employers have seen this firsthand in the states with paid family leave programs, reporting that it has no impact on their financial performance and can come with many benefits.