This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act, a landmark bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993. The law, which President Clinton called “a matter of pure common sense and a matter of common decency,” was a huge victory for American families. It gave legal weight to the timeless value of family caregiving, ensuring that workers at companies with 50 or more employees would be guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a new baby or sick family member.
But while the FMLA was a major step in the right direction, it has not kept pace with a changing America. Although unpaid leave is useful for some workers, roughly 40 percent of the nation’s workforce still does not qualify for the benefits of the law. In addition, many who do qualify cannot afford to take unpaid leave. Going without a paycheck for 12 weeks is simply not an option for millions of American workers despite the urgent needs of their families.
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