A new mom who gave birth only a few days ago returned to work today because her employer doesn’t offer maternity leave. Staying home to care for and bond with her child means forgoing her paycheck.

A recent college graduate, already feeling the burden of adulting plus student loan debt, is sacrificing several paychecks to go back home and care for a terminally ill parent.

For some of us, these decisions may seem unimaginable. Yet, these are decisions that thousands of workers living in America face every day. The U.S. is the only industrialized, modernized country in the world without a paid family medical leave program.

The weight of a health concern is only compounded when accompanied by the financial burden of lost income. This is especially true in the Black community where, according to the Federal Reserve Board, Black families are less likely to have emergency savings.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does offer some protection. It requires employers with 50 or more workers to allow them up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave annually for specified family and medical reasons. This allows employees to bond with a newborn child or care for a sick family member. FMLA does require that health coverage continues for the duration of the leave but gives employers the choice of whether or not to pay their employees. Thus, 84% of private industry employees are left without access to paid maternity leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the impact of giving employers the option to not pay for family or medical leave. 

As with the federal FMLA program, most state FMLA programs only provide protection from job loss. Connecticut is one of only nine states in the nation (plus the District of Columbia) to offer paid leave. The Connecticut Paid Leave Authority was formed by the state legislature to facilitate a program that provides financial relief, in the form of income replacement, for people who need to take time off because they or a family member are dealing with a severe illness or injury. This is the major difference between Connecticut’s paid leave program and the federal FMLA — income replacement.

Also according to the Federal Reserve Board, only 14% of Black families have enough savings to cover six months of expenses, compared to 36% of white families and 27%of other families. Not only is the health case for paid leave critical, the potential to further enable, or disable, opportunities to sustain economic self-sufficiency must also be considered.

Paid Leave programs offer an opportunity for all communities, regardless of race or economic status, to prioritize their health, or the health of a family member, and still keep food on the table. The pandemic has shown, not only to Connecticut residents but to the world, that the ability to take time off to care for your — or a family member’s — health is crucial to living your healthiest life.

For too long we’ve witnessed the pitfalls of being the only modern nation without the necessary benefit of paid time off for family and medical needs. While attempts to enact a national paid medical leave program have not been successful thus far, many state and municipal governments are considering programs similar to Connecticut’s. Here are a few ways you can advocate for paid leave programs in your community:

  1. Contact your U.S. Senators and Members of Congress to ask for their support of national paid leave.
  2. If you have benefited from paid leave in one of the states with an existing program, tell your story so others will learn how it could benefit them.
  3. Discuss paid leave benefits with your human resources department. In many organizations, HR has oversight in shaping internal policies to support and benefit its employees.

America is one of the top five richest countries in the world. Yet, many workers are just one paycheck away from a financial catastrophe. Every resident of every state deserves the opportunity to prioritize their health and well-being and that of their family over financial concerns. Paid leave programs are how we provide those opportunities.


Andrea Barton-Reeves is the first-ever chief executive officer of the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority, bringing with her several years of experience leading programs that provide critical services for families. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and New York Law School.


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