Earned sick leave: A policy for a strong Michigan future

Added September 17th, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

When I gave birth to my sweet baby girl about seven years ago, I remember the anxiety I immediately felt about the short time I would have with her before heading back to work. Now, “short time” is all relative, because I was given the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks off, so at least I didn’t have to worry about rushing back to work too soon. But many other women are not so lucky.

Imagine this: nearly one in four new moms, who are employed, return to work within two weeks of giving birth, according to a recent report from In These Times. These are sometimes even mothers who experience complications, have C-sections or whose babies are born premature. Why do they go back to work so soon? Because they can’t afford to go without pay and their employers don’t offer sufficient paid leave time—not even for the birth of a child.

Only an estimated 13% of workers in the U.S. have access to paid leave, including sick time or maternity leave. Some workers have one pool of leave time to use, whether they are sick, taking care of a sick child or family member, or having a baby, while too many workers have no earned leave at all. That means that the vast majority of working moms in this country have some very difficult choices to make when their babies are born. They are pressured into working to support their families—an increasing number of households are comprised of single moms and their incomes are critical to their families’ survival.

Going back to work too soon can have a real impact on both the health and well-being of moms and babies. Research shows that longer maternity leave is associated with declines in depression and improvements in overall health. Not only is mom’s health affected, but babies whose moms go back too soon are less likely to be breastfed. The positive health benefits of breastfeeding have been well-documented and these babies miss out when their moms have to return to work quickly.

Furthermore, in the context of creating early learning environments to improve third-grade reading, studies have shown that babies whose moms return to work too quickly also experience negative effects in the development of their motor and social skills and even vocabulary giving policymakers yet another reason to support earned leave.

The United States remains one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t provide paid leave to parents. However, President Barack Obama has made some strides through an executive order to grant paid leave time to federal contractors. Plus, some states have taken it upon themselves to provide their workers with some form of paid leave, like California, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Here in Michigan, momentum is building to do the same. The Time to Care Coalition has launched a ballot campaign to ensure that Michigan workers—including working moms—have access to earned sick leave.

There are many reasons to support earned sick leave for all of the workers in Michigan rather than only the select few who are privileged to have it, not only as a matter of fairness, but for health, education and long-term economic strategies. As we’ve said for years, learning begins with a healthy mom and baby, which in turn results in positive educational outcomes, a prepared and skilled workforce, and a strong economy and future for our state.

 –Alicia Guevara Warren


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