Here’s more good news for parents to celebrate this week: Voters approved measures for paid family leave in Colorado and free preschool in parts of Oregon on Tuesday. So, yes, we would still very much like a federal program providing 12 weeks of paid family leave and universal 3-K and Pre-K programs, as Joe Biden proposed during his campaign, but these are some steps forward.
The Colorado law will give people up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new baby, adopted child, or ill family member. It will be funded by having both employers and employees contribute 0.45 percent of the employees’ wages. Then, beginning in 2024, workers (including state employees, self-employed people, and gig workers) would be eligible for the program if they’ve earned at least $2,500 from their job. During the leave, they would get up to $1,100 a week.
Since 2015, legislators in Colorado have tried and failed to pass a paid family leave law in the state, never making it past the “task force” phase. How many families struggled to care for their babies and other family members during all that foot-dragging? Finally, the group Colorado Families First gathered signatures to make it a ballot measure this election. It passed by about 53 percent to 47 percent, according to the Colorado Sun.
That means Colorado joins eight other states — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington — plus Washington, D.C., that have paid family leave programs. Federal and some state employees have similar parental-leave benefits too. All the other states are sitting around and totally cool with the fact that some women go back to work two weeks after giving birth because their employers are cheap.
As for what parents do with their kids once they’re older than 12 weeks old, there are governments working (ever so slowly) on solving that pressing issue too. Over in Oregon’s Multnomah County, Working Mother reports that Measure 26-214 passed, giving all 3- and 4-year-olds access to free preschool, staffed by teachers that will earn the same as kindergarten teachers and assistant teachers that earn at least $18 an hour. That program will be paid for by a 1.5 percent tax on individuals who earn more than $125,000 a year and couples who earn more than $200,000.
None of these programs are perfect. Who is taking care of Portland’s kids before they reach age 3? What are Colorado families doing before 2024? Still, it’s proof that voters are catching up to the fact that parents, in particular women, really need help. And when we get that help, it’s not like we’re depositing extra cash in some offshore bank accounts. We’re then able to earn more money that we pour back into the economy, and raise kids who are healthy and well-adjusted and grow up to contribute to society too. Literally no one loses here.
Let’s close our eyes for a moment and imagine we are all these wealthy celebrities with round-the-clock nanny care.