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Paid leave strengthens the economy

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As families struggle to get by with rising expenses such as child care, health insurance and college tuition, along with stagnant incomes, it's important for us to identify policies that we can enact to promote economic security.

One such policy that can improve economic security for working families is paid family leave. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world without it. Since this concept isn't likely to be passed at the national level in the near future, it's important for Minnesota to begin moving toward a system which provides paid family leave.

We can follow in the footsteps of other states such as California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York in instituting paid leave. Last session, an insurance-like plan to provide Minnesotans paid family leave — paid for by contributions by both employers and employees of, on average, $89 per year — was included in the Senate version of the tax bill, but unfortunately did not survive.

People are often faced with a difficult choice between caring for a newborn or family member and taking home a paycheck. It is not only a costly economic choice, but also a detrimental one for health and well-being. Research shows that paid maternity leave leads to better outcomes for the child's mental and physical health and improved academic performance. In states with paid leave, research by economists has found that more people take time off, including low-income parents. Paid leave also raises the probability that mothers return to the work force, working more hours and earning higher wages, and reducing unemployment.

Research also shows that paid leave policies are not bad for businesses. In California, employers' fears of offering paid family leave have not materialized. According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 89-99 percent of employers say it has had no effect or a positive one on productivity, profitability, turnover and morale. Eighty-seven percent say it has not increased costs while 9 percent say they saved money from a decrease in employee turnover.

While U.S. citizens can take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act, this comes up far short in providing people what they need since it provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave and only half of employees are eligible. In fact, just 11 percent of employees have access to paid family leave through their employer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Low-income and part-time workers who already struggle to get by are the least likely to be able to afford unpaid family leave, and their children unfairly suffer.

In addition to economic security for individual families, it's important to recognize that our workforce is rapidly changing and most Minnesota children have both parents in the workforce. To ensure a thriving economy, workers should be offered paid family leave.

Child care can no longer be thought of as solely a woman’s issue. It must be considered an economic priority for our work force. Paid family leave is an issue with growing public and bipartisan support, and many employers are already taking steps to provide it, such as Cargill and 3M. While this is certainly great news for workers at these companies, this is something that should be available to everyone, including those working for small businesses.

To ensure all Minnesotans have the chance to experience economic success, we must take steps to even the playing field. A strong paid family leave policy would be one step in that direction. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this done.

Jennifer Schultz

Rep. Jennifer Schultz DFL-Duluth represents District 7A in the Minnesota House. She can be reached at (651) 296-2228.

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