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From the desk of ... Jody Heymann

What Are Lawmakers Afraid Of?

November 17, 2009 | Work and Family

Jody Heymann, Founding Director, Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University Ensuring a floor of decent working conditions is crucial for the majority of Americans.

For decades, we've debated whether the United States can afford to provide more family-friendly workplace policies and protections, and whether doing so will increase unemployment and harm our economic competitiveness.

At the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University, we set out to answer those questions through an eight-year study that examined policies, protections and supports in 190 of the world's 192 countries.

Through the study, we learned that the United States lacks many key work protections that are crucial for working adults and their families, and lags behind most of the 190 countries whose labor laws we examined.

Global Floor BookThe new study, Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth that We Can't Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone, found that:

  • 164 nations guarantee paid annual leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 163 nations guarantee paid sick leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 157 nations guarantee workers a day of rest each week; the U.S. does not.
  • 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers; the U.S. does not.
  • 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers; the U.S. does not.

We also found that, globally, none of these working conditions are linked with lower levels of economic competitiveness or employment. In fact, many of these guarantees are associated with increased competitiveness. Of the world's 15 most competitive countries, 14 provide paid sick leave, 14 provide paid annual leave, 13 guarantee a weekly day of rest, 13 provide paid leave for new mothers and 12 for new fathers.

Similarly, the majority of the 13 countries with consistently low unemployment rates provide paid annual leave (12), a weekly day of rest (12), paid leave for new mothers (12), paid sick leave (11), and paid leave for new fathers (9).

While the implications of guaranteeing decent work have always been important, they are particularly critical during the economic downturn that began in 2008 and that will likely affect United States workers for years to come.

So what are our lawmakers afraid of? Now we know that the world's most successful and competitive nations are providing the supports the United States lacks, without harming their competitiveness. We can - and should - do better.

To learn more about the new study, visit www.RaisingtheGlobalFloor.org.


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