Today, people across the country are honoring the fathers in their lives. The gifts, greeting cards and time that will be shared are wonderful, heartwarming tributes. But lawmakers should pay tribute, too, with policy changes that enable dads to take care of themselves and be there for their families when they’re welcoming a new child, and when a sick family member needs them.
In April, when the New York Mets’ Daniel Murphy missed two games to be with his wife after their first child was born, the country had a much-needed conversation about paid leave and attitudes toward leave-taking. (And, as he shared with a crowd assembled at the White House last week, he only took three days.) Since then, many less famous fathers have shared stories of their experiences taking leave, or being unable to, and the impact it had on their families (James Poniewozik, Aaron Gouveia and Lance Stewart, to name a few). This increased awareness about the importance of, and the challenges associated with, fathers taking the time their families need. It was a good, encouraging conversation.
But the sad reality is that, despite the media firestorm he endured, Daniel Murphy is one of the lucky few in the United States today. More than 80 percent of employers don’t offer paid paternity leave to any of their employees. And just 14 percent of larger employers (those with 50 or more employees) provide paid paternity leave – a number that has not changed since 2005. The United States is one of only five highly competitive (OECD) countries that does not guarantee paid leave for new fathers.
And yet we know that fathers need and want access to paid leave, and that it can have significant benefits for them, their families and their employers. In California, where a paid family leave program has been in place for 10 years, fathers now account for 31 percent of new parents seeking to take paid family leave to care for a new child, up from 19 percent when the law took effect. And the likelihood of California fathers taking paid leave for a child’s birth has more than doubled. We also know that men who take paid leave and then return to work are less likely than those who do not take paid leave to receive public assistance or food stamps in the year that follows (controlling for other relevant factors).
This week, the National Partnership will release the third edition of our state-by-state analysis of laws that support new and expecting parents, Expecting Better. The results demonstrate that, while some states have taken great steps toward providing both mothers and fathers the leave and workplace supports they need, most states have done nothing to promote the health and economic stability of new parents. And that is why a federal paid leave standard like the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, and federal funding proposed in the president’s budget for more state innovation, are critical.
All new parents – mothers and fathers – should able to take time away from work to welcome a new child without facing financial hardship or devastation. So, this Father’s Day, after you’ve taken some time to appreciate the fathers in your lives, take a minute to tell your members of Congress how they can truly honor America’s fathers: by passing the FAMILY Act and establishing a national paid family and medical leave program. It’s what fathers, and all America’s families, really need.