Women have been operating from the depths of a full-blown crisis for 20 months. We've been swallowed whole by the pandemic-induced childcare crisis and we're bleeding from the workforce in droves because of it.
And the U.S. government doesn't care. Instead, the politicians who are paid to serve in the best interest of their constituents have said "Need a life raft? Too bad."
Despite a Democratic majority, despite the grim statistics that prove families all across the country are suffering due to economic devastation, despite the fact that the United States remains one of the last countries on earth to not provide paid family leave—the proposal for paid family leave is off the table.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, forced Democrats to yield to his opposition to the proposal. The bill was also unanimously opposed by Republicans.
This means that many women and birthing people across the country who have just given birth will be forced to either quit their jobs or return to work while still recovering in addition to finding care for a newborn who needs 24/7 care and attention.
BREAKING: President Joe Biden has pitched a dramatically scaled-back domestic policy package to House Democrats. It now includes $1.75 trillion of social services and climate change programs without a paid family leave program and other priorities. https://t.co/I0mDbSfONA— The Associated Press (@AP) October 28, 2021
Per the AP, President Biden is heading to Capitol Hill Thursday to push for the dramatically scaled-back policy package. What was once a $3.5 trillion package that included paid family leave and lower prescription drug pricing is now a $1.5 trillion package that leaves women and families in the dust to appease centrists and Republicans.
At one point this week, it looked like four weeks of paid family leave would be included in the final package, but even one meager month proved to be "too much" for people in power who will never, ever have to worry about who will watch their children or where their next paycheck is coming from.
Here's a story about the first four weeks of my child's life.
When my youngest daughter was 28 days old, she contracted viral meningitis. She was hospitalized for several days, hooked up to machines that weighed more than she did. My husband had already used one week of his earned vacation time when she was born and had to use any remaining paid time off while his newborn daughter lay helpless in a cold hospital crib.
I was still bleeding from delivering her, but I didn't have time to think about it.
I was a freelancer then. Many women in media choose to be freelancers for the schedule flexibility and the ability to work from home. It was one of the best choices I've ever made in my career, but the lack of paid time off is an enormous sacrifice and should be acknowledged as such.
As a freelancer, this means I had already gone unpaid for the two weeks I budgeted for after she was born. Two weeks may not seem like much, but those two weeks and the additional 5 days I took off while she was sick coupled with a reduced workload so I could, you know, care for a newborn, set our family back financially for six months. I had to borrow money from my father for the first time in my adult life just to make ends meet.
I'm fortunate I even had that option. Many other new parents don't. Four weeks of paid leave is nothing.
While aimlessly pacing around the hospital like a zombie during those awful days when my baby was sick, I noticed there were a few rooms with infants and toddlers without any family with them. Just sick babies, lying in hospital cribs in a room that wasn't their own. All alone. For hours and hours.
I asked a nurse about them. The answer broke my heart but it didn't surprise me: in some cases, their parents couldn't get time off from work, and they couldn't afford to lose their jobs.
Could you imagine having to make that decision? To leave your sick baby alone in a hospital because losing your job could affect their care and quality of life for an indefinite period of time?
And yet, Congress chooses to force many parents to make decisions just like that every single day.
Caring for precious human lives goes beyond the care they receive in utero. You can't claim to care about a child's life if you don't care about the quality of that life when it's born.
You can't claim to care about children and families if you force mothers to abandon their babies while they're still bleeding for the sake of capitalism.
And if Congress is worried that American capitalism will suffer because of paid leave, then they should know that women with access to paid family leave are 40 percent more likely to rejoin the workforce after having a baby. (A McKinsey estimate says that paid family leave could add $2.4 trillion to US GDP.)
Additionally, they should know that paid leave would actually improve the Social Security system because when women return to work, it boosts Social Security tax revenues.
Paid family leave is not a vacation. It's a requirement for happy, healthy families. And if a happy, healthy family isn't the backbone of the real "American Dream," I don't know what is.