Center for American Progress

Paid Family and Medical Leave Would Help Americans

Paid Family and Medical Leave Would Help Americans

A new CAP report proposes and outlines the Social Security Cares Act, which would establish paid family and medical leave for the nation.

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Our economy is fueled by individuals who combine work with parenting or with caring for an elderly or ailing relative. Two-thirds of families today are led by two income-earners or a single-parent wage-earner, which means no one can easily stay at home in these families—whether to take care of a sick child or elderly parent, to care for a newborn child, or even to take care of themselves in the event of a serious illness.

While the phenomenon of workers combining work with care is not new, one thing is now clear: This trend is not going to be reversed but rather will continue to accelerate. In fact, in 2010 half of all births to women under age 30 were to single mothers. If a single mom or one of the breadwinners in a two-earner family must stay at home to care for an ill child, then they may face loss of pay, loss of opportunity to advance in the workplace, or, in the worst cases, loss of a job. While these scenarios are most likely for those workers earning the lowest wages, no worker in the United States is fully protected against these possibilities.

This is where our proposed Social Security Cares Act would come into play. The proposed new law would establish a national paid family and medical leave program as part of Social Security. This new program would provide partial wage replacement for workers across the country who temporarily need to take time off from their jobs to tend to their own medical condition, to care for an ill family member, or to take care of and bond with a newborn or newly adopted child.

While paid family and medical leave would be a new addition to our system of social insurance, it is built on historic programs put in place during the New Deal and expanded over time to protect workers against the loss of income due to a range of unexpected and planned events. Social insurance—including unemployment insurance, old age and survivors insurance (commonly referred to simply as Social Security), and Social Security disability insurance—is financed through a payroll tax on employers and employees. Our most prominent social insurance programs—old age and survivors insurance and Social Security disability insurance—are run through the Social Security Administration.

Providing paid family and medical leave through social insurance administered by the Social Security Administration would benefit more than just the workers facing the strain of balancing work and care—it would also benefit businesses and taxpayers.

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