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President Obama to provide paid family leave for federal employees

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

President Obama calls on Congress to support families through new initiatives

Today President Obama will announce several new plans to help better support families and working parents in the U.S. For far too long the U.S. has lagged behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to policies that support families. Today the president will address this with a handful of new initiatives aimed at allowing parents to better succeed both at work and within the home.

In a fitting move yesterday, Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser and chairwoman of the White House Council on Women, posted the president's plans to LinkedIn in anticipation of today's announcement. Jarrett chose LinkedIn as her platform to spread this news because it is "the world's largest online audience of professionals." In her piece titled "Why we think paid leave is a worker's right, not a privilege," Jarrett acknowledged the challenges and tough choices many working parents need to face due to lack of supportive policy like paid sick leave and mandated, paid family leave (emphasis mine):

At a time when all parents are working in more than 60 percent of households with children (up from just 40 percent in 1965), and 63 percent of women with children under the age of 5 participate in the labor force (compared with 31 percent in the early 1970s), one fact is resoundingly clear: The fundamental structure of our workplaces has simply not kept pace with the changing American family.

The hope is that with the initiatives being announced today, the government can help ease some of that burden.

Jarrett wrote that the president will urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act — a law that will allow "millions of working Americans to earn up to seven days a year of paid sick time" — and call on states and cities to pass similar laws. A sign that the president truly puts action behind his words, he will sign a presidential memorandum that, according to Jarrett, "will ensure federal employees have access to at least 6 weeks of paid sick leave when a new child arrives and propose that Congress offer 6 weeks of paid administrative leave as well." The fact that federal employees will soon have access to 12 weeks of paid leave is monumental and perhaps a sign of bigger change. In that vein, President Obama will also outline a new plan to help states implement paid leave programs.

Jarrett ended the piece by challenging both the government and employers, stressing that they need to provide these types of empowering policies, particularly paid leave. Understanding the avalanche of challenges that can present themselves with no paid leave, Jarrett owned up to what needs to change: "We can't say we stand for family values when so many women in this country have to jeopardize their financial security just to take a few weeks off of work after giving birth. We can't say we're for middle-class stability when a man has to sacrifice his economic security to care for his ailing mother."

Supporting working parents makes sense, both for employees and businesses. Research has shown over and over again that making the workplace a more supportive place — especially in ways that help ease the work-life burden — allows for more successful, productive employees. Hopefully today's announcement from President Obama will be a truly groundbreaking event, pushing the U.S. to meet its peers in the developed world to finally offer workers — and parents in particular — the support and stability they deserve.

More on maternity leave

When it comes to maternity leave, always have a plan
What it’s really like working after 3 months or less of maternity leave
The ins and outs of parental leave

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