There are 72 million women over 16 years of age in the labor force, either working or looking for work.  Fair paid leave is an issue that affects 46.8 percent of the American workforce.  Our society still views taking care of children as an unpaid social duty for women but not for men. Millions of women are in the position of having to balance work with care for their children.

It is imperative that we improve our current policies on paid sick leave and paid family leave for the sake of working women, especially those who are also the heads of households and sole caretakers.

Women as low wage earners

Women workers also earn a disproportionately low wage.  Almost two-thirds of all minimum wage workers and three-fourths of tipped minimum wage workers are female. Many of them work in traditionally coded “women’s work” industries and are underpaid. Such jobs include child and elder care, housekeeping, and food service.  Women in these job categories badly need paid leave for self-care and care for others.

What is sick leave and family leave?

Sick leave is time off for employees to deal with their own personal health and well-being. Family leave is time off for employees to deal with the health and well-being of others in one’s family. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers for issues like recovering from illness or surgery, care for new baby or care for sick spouses, parents, or children. The protections afforded by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are among the most well-known protections afforded to active employees.

Even though FMLA guarantees job protected leave for some workers, many cannot afford to take it because it is unpaid. Only 12 percent of all American workers get paid family leave. While two thirds get paid sick leave and almost half get paid personal leave, there is still a substantial number of U.S. workers who cannot access these benefits.  The FMLA only covers those employees who’ve worked with the same employer for a minimum of 12 months and over 1,250 hours at companies with over 50 employees or at a company within 75 miles of their initial job site.  Those who do not meet these criteria are not eligible for benefits under the FMLA.

What do the United States, Papua New Guinea, and Suriname have in common?

America lags behind nearly all other nations in failing to provide paid family and paid sick leave.  To date, the United States, Papua New Guinea, and Suriname are the only countries out of 193 U.N. member nations that do not provide paid maternity leave.  Women have access to paid maternity leave from 14 to 78 weeks depending on the country, many of which offer the same or similar coverage to fathers.  Some of these countries pay parents on leave 100 percent of their salaries. The U.S. is also one of the nine countries out of 193 where workers are not entitled to paid sick leave, either.

It is time America caught up with the rest of the world.