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After 100 Years of Flowers, Time for Paid Family Leave

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In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation that established the first national Mother’s Day holiday. Since then, on the second Sunday of May, mothers of every age and in every city and town in America have been dutifully celebrated with the love and respect they deserve, and with … flowers and candy.

Nothing wrong with that. And, by all means, don’t forget them this time around.

But after more than 100 years, it’s time to give mothers what they really want and need: paid family leave.

In a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 82 percent of U.S. adults say mothers should receive paid leave following the birth or adoption of their child. And most say their employer should pay for it.

But current reality offers a stark contrast: Only 13 percent of workers receive paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many who are forced to take unpaid leave end up seeking public assistance to cover lost wages or salary.

The benefits of paid family leave are many, and can be measured at the state level, according to a new study by the Urban Institute. For example, paid maternity leave in California not only benefits mothers by extending the period of leave they can spend with their newborns, but also increases the probability that they will be employed 9 to 12 months after childbirth.

The same study found that paid leave may improve a baby’s health and developmental outcomes by increasing the likelihood of breastfeeding and promoting a healthy parent-child relationship; paid leave policies in states where they exist – such as California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – were less onerous on employers than they expected; and the benefits of paid leave are more likely to benefit lower-income mothers.

Among developed nations, the U.S. is alone in not providing paid parental leave. Yet, according to the authors of the Urban Institute study, now may be the time to act.

“The differences between Republican and Democratic approaches to paid leave are significant,” write Julia Isaacs, Olivia Healy, and H. Elizabeth Peters. “Yet with proposals under consideration in both the administration and Congress, the time may be ripe for developing and enacting the first national program of paid leave in the U.S.”

President Donald Trump, despite all his broken promises, remembered to mention paid family leave during his address to Congress in February.

“My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women’s health,” he said.

Flowers and candy are nice. But paid family leave? Now that would be a real Mother’s Day gift.