Americans can be grateful for much that has happened in 2015, but there’s not much to cheer in this nation’s Grinch-like intransigence on work and family.
Raise your hand if you’re still figuring out who’s going to watch your kids while you try to work next week in the days before New Year’s.
Say aye if you’ll be running back and forth to the office between caretaking stints with a sick or elderly loved one.
How about a thumbs-up from the new moms and dads who used all their vacation for maternity or paternity leave and all their money for day care, and so had to scramble to make the December holidays happen?
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We are a nation of family values, except when it doesn’t suit us. There must be a better way.
Families are the basic unit of civilization, and nearly every other industrialized nation in the world extends some help to them, so that people don’t get caught between the need to care for family members and the need to support them financially.
Good for Hillary Clinton, who has proposed a tax break for those who care for aging parents and grandparents, and who has made paid leave for new parents and caretakers a signature issue.
And good for Bernie Sanders, who wants to increase the payroll tax, ever so slightly, to fund paid family leave for workers.
Good for Sen. Marco Rubio, who got out in front of the Republican presidential field with, at least, a tax credit to encourage businesses to offer paid family leave for employees. Good even for House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has publicly acknowledged that work-family balance should be supported – at least for him, and his wife and his kids, in his own job.
Good for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who recently announced he will take two months of paternity leave to bond with his newborn daughter, setting an example both for driven Silicon Valley and for his own hardworking employees.
If there’s a glimmer of hope, it’s in the fact that family leave is starting to come up – finally – in both the presidential debates and in the larger national conversation.
And good for California, which, though its state program is mingy compared to the paid family leave in most other countries, at least offers something to compensate workers who need to take time off to tend to their families.
Though Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to expand the state program after businesses complained it was drafted in a way that invited exploitation, we’re hoping that state lawmakers try again this year to improve it. The program, which pays for itself out of the state disability insurance fund via a very small deduction from workers’ paychecks, has plugged along for more than a decade now, with no problems. It is not even remotely a “job killer,” as business lobbyists have for years reflexively insisted.
If Santa is taking requests yet for next year’s holiday wish list, we hope he’ll consider some serious help for families who are knocking themselves out, juggling the needs of their livelihoods and loved ones, not just during the holiday season, but all year.
Forcing families to struggle and stretch just to take care of each other is no way to run a country – or to celebrate a holiday.