Two decades ago our nation’s leaders took an important step toward bringing U.S. policies on family leave more closely in line with those of other developed nations. In signing the Family and Medical Leave Act into law, President Bill Clinton ensured that workers at companies with 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius would be guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave annually for events such as the birth of a child or to care for a sick loved one.
President Clinton spoke in favor of the bill on both moral and economic grounds, calling it “a matter of pure common sense and a matter of common decency.” He also emphasized that, “Over the long run, the lessons of the most productive companies in the world … are that those who put their people first are those who will triumph in the global economy.” It was the first piece of legislation President Clinton signed into law during his time in office.
Twenty years later, however, U.S. policymakers have done little more to make our workplaces and workforce more competitive, productive, and secure. Less than 60 percent of American workers are currently eligible for the protections outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act, meaning that 54 million Americans are forced to choose between their jobs and their families’ well-being. And lawmakers have done nothing more to guarantee that new mothers can afford to take time to care for a child or that workers can remain financially secure while caring for a sick or dying parent.
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