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On Solving America's Paid Leave Problem

Patrick Ball on November 28, 2016 03:16 PM

 Paid leave has been a hot topic in the United States for a few years now. And now that more and more of our country’s largest living generation, Millennials, are entering parenthood we can expect the conversation to continue among business and policy leaders.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the founder, chairwoman and CEO of, sat down with Inc. features editor Diana Ransom recently to discuss the role of business leaders in solving America’s paid leave problem and shining a light on care infrastructure issues affecting working families today.

Watch the Founders Forum video.

Care Is Not a 'Soft' Issue 

“Often people think of care as a gender issue or a soft issue, when in fact it’s an economic imperative and it is so important for our global economy,” Sheila says in the interview.

But what does that mean, exactly? 

The United States is considered a global economic power, but we have far fewer "family-friendly" policies than other rich countries. We don't guarantee paid leave for new moms after the birth of a child, for example. (Papua New Guinea is the only other nation who can say that.) And our patchwork care infrastructure has working parents struggling to find and afford the quality, reliable care they need for their families. Did you know the average cost of full-time child care in centers in the United States costs about one-fifth of the country's median household income? 

When more than 90 percent of dads and about 70 percent of moms work outside the home, it stands to reason family-friendly policies don't just impact moms and dads but the companies who employ them, as well. To give you an idea of the economic impact: a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress found U.S. workers lose out on about $28.9 billion in lost wages due to the lack of access to affordable child care and paid leave. (Of that, $8.3 billion is for child care and $26.3 billion is attributed to lack of paid leave.)

RELATED: Big Data Builds the Business Case for Employer-Provided Child Care Benefits 

 Absent federal policies, some business leaders have stepped up to fill the void.  Some ... but not nearly enough. 

Millions and millions of American workers don’t have access to family-friendly benefits, like paid parental leave, child care assistance or even paid sick days. Less than 15 percent of private sector workers have access to paid family leave of any kind. According to the Society of Human Resources’ 2016 benefits survey, just 3 percent of organizations offer unsubsidized day care services, down from 9 percent in 1996. About 15 percent provide child care resource and referral services.

“As business leaders, we can take a leadership position here and say, ‘We think this is really important for our employees,’" Sheila says in the Inc. interview. "But my belief is that once we actually get paid leave passed in this country, then we will open our eyes overall that there is more to do to build a care infrastructure.”

As long as the United States remains the only industrialized nation without a national policy providing paid leave for new moms, employer-provided paid maternity and paternity leave benefits will be a major recruiting and retention tool for companies.  And benefits like backup care make a measurable difference terms of reducing the absenteeism and presenteeism that crops up and limits productivity when there is a care crisis at home. 

As Sheila told Inc: "It is very difficult to have peace of mind at work when things aren’t working at home. That’s why we started Care@Work.”

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