By Igor Volsky and Victoria Fleischer
Newly-elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) raised a few eyebrows when he warned Republicans that he wouldn’t run for Speaker unless he was able to spend weekends with his family in Wisconsin. Media pundits and proponents of paid sick leave even applauded the young father of three for starting a national conversation about life-work balance.
Since assuming the leadership role, Ryan has reiterated his opposition to legislation that would guarantee paid family leave to American workers, characterizing the efforts as a “government mandate.” But unlike Ryan, most American workers lack the leverage to simply demand more time with their families and as a result struggle to carve out precious moments with their children.
IGOR VOLSKY, ThinkProgress: Here is the newly elected Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. He’s the father of three young children.
PAUL RYAN, Speaker of the House: I cannot and I will not give up my family time.
VOLSKY: On the left is Jessica Erfer, a federal employee, with her son, Jack.
JESSICA ERFER: I had been a federal employee for 7 years and saved up all of my vacation and all of my sick leave, and then at that point we started thinking maybe we should have a kid.
VOLSKY: Since Paul was the only person with the votes to become speaker, he had the leverage to secure family time. Jessica did not.
ERFER: I felt like I had done something wrong because it shouldn’t be that hard in the most developed country in the world.
VOLSKY: America is the only industrialized nation without a national family leave policy. In fact, just 12 percent of Americans receive paid family leave from their employers. The rate is less than half of that for low-income families. As a result, one out of four first-time mothers quit their jobs or are fired after having a baby.
ERFER: Having a child at my job was an inconvenience, not a celebration.
VOLSKY: Now, lawmakers have introduced legislation that would give mothers like Jessica up to 12 weeks of paid leave through an insurance-like program, jointly funded by employers and employees. But Paul isn’t buying it.
RYAN: So if you’re asking me because I want to continue being the best dad and husband and speaker I can be — getting that work-life balance correct — means I should sign up for some new unfunded entitlement, that doesn’t make any sense to me.
VOLSKY: In 2009, Paul voted against a bill that would have provided Jessica and other federal employees with 4 weeks of paid parental leave.
ERFER: So I guess the one thing I would have told my younger self is to take a vacation, because it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I did everything right and it was still hard for me. So people who stumble among the way, I can only imagine how much worse it is for them.