On Thursday, the White House unveiled its social spending framework, with a price tag half of what Democrats originally called for.
The $1.75 trillion framework contains major investments in childcare, but there’s still several glaring cuts to progressive priorities. One major omission: Paid family and medical leave.
Originally, Democrats proposed 12 weeks of paid family leave — a move that would bring the US on par with its fellow developed countries. The US is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development without paid leave.
Although paid family and medical leave isn’t part of the framework right now, there is still a push to include it.
Rep. Donald Beyer of Virginia told Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig that “I know there’s still tremendous energy on both sides to get paid medical leave of some kind back in.”
It’s a policy that could change the lives of millions of families across America, especially for women of color. “[Paid family leave] is a worker retention policy that is so critical, particularly for families that are on the economic margins,” Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told Insider. “And Black women and Latinas are often the ones who are on those margins trying to make ends meet.”
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, cofounder, CEO, and executive director of MomsRising, told Insider passing paid family leave with “progressive” wage replacement and non-discrimination protections “will significantly help address systemic race and gender inequalities.”
“Passing paid family medical leave — along with childcare — can help close the wage gap between moms and non-moms,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said. That maternal wage gap is even more pronounced for moms of color. Black mothers are paid 52 cents for every dollar non-Hispanic white fathers make.
Research from the National Partnership for Women & Families finds that Black workers are 83% more likely than their white peers to be unable to take leave when they need it. According to the National Partnership research, workers of color are also more likely to remain uncovered by the country’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which stipulates unpaid leave for mostly full-time workers.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that just 23% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave as of March 2021. Historically, lower-earning workers are less likely to have access to paid leave.
Black and Latina women were affected greatly by the pandemic and its economic dislocations. Many Black women are the breadwinners of the family, Frye said. But they were also working in essential and jobs that were hard hit during the pandemic, such as in leisure and hospitality.
They were experiencing large childcare disruptions and may have had to use unpaid leave, according to Frye and other research done by the Center for American Progress. Some women left the labor force during the pandemic because of childcare-related reasons.
All of this and more, Frye said, highlights “why paid leave is so important.” She said it’s in our “collective interest” to ensure that families — especially Black and Latinx families — “can stay in their jobs, grow in their jobs, get their wages higher, get a level of economic stability, minimize disruptions.”
Paid leave is really an equity issue, Frye said, especially for Black and Latina women.
“The reality is that women across the board are often penalized in the workplace because they have caregiving responsibilities,” Frye added. “We have a long history of in particular expecting women of color to deprioritize their own family needs because they’re quote unquote supposed to be working.”
She said that’s why she and others recognize the importance of passing paid family leave: “It’s really critical to making sure that all women can participate in the workforce without fear of being treated unfairly simply because they have to care for their families.”
The other childcare investments included in the framework are still good news.
“We’re celebrating that there was a significant commitment to building the care infrastructure, including childcare, home and community based services, the child tax credit, and earned income tax were also expanded,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said. “And the exclusion of paid family and medical leave for now was a deep disappointment that must be addressed immediately.”