Will paid parental leave get some air time during the third Democratic debate?

If you didn't catch the first couple rounds of Democratic debates it's understandable. The two-night format was a huge barrier for time-poor parents. The campaign coverage can feel both overwhelming and exhausting. There have been a ton of candidates vying for our attention and election day is still a year away. It's a lot, and as parents our time is precious.

But tonight, a whittled-down field of candidates are going to take the debate stage again so Motherly will be watching for you. And we hope that as we inch closer to November 2020 the candidates start talking about a critical issue that seemed to be nearly missing from earlier debates, namely, paid family leave.

The lack of paid family leave in America is a huge issue for so many voters, but the phrase was only uttered twice in the first night of the first debate (by John Delany, who didn't make the cut for this debate) and was said once in the second night (by Kristen Gillibrand, who is also out of the race).

We were shocked when no one talked about the issue we know American parents are talking about all the time, and we're not the only ones who noticed this incredibly important issue was missing from these debates.

"It is stunning and disappointing that paid family and medical leave—a policy that would touch and help nearly every working person and their family members who need their care—has come up so infrequently in the Democrats' debates so far," Vicki Shabo , a senior fellow in Paid Leave Policy and Strategy at the think tank New America, said in a statement to Motherly.

Wendy Chun-Hoon,the co-director of Family Values @ Work agrees. She's disappointed that paid parental leave, equal pay and and minimum wage have not been discussed much in the debates.

"This has been a great year of momentum in the movement for paid leave with eight states and the District of Columbia implementing or newly adopting legislation to ensure paid leave for workers in their states. To have a candidate prioritize this progress validates the impact such legislation is having for millions of workers and families, and calls the question of how we make this a reality for everyone. Digging deeper on such issues can tell us a lot about the candidates, their values, their approach to policy change and their capacity to govern," Chun-Hoon shared in a statement to Motherly.

Healthcare was not a topic in earlier debates (but this week online parents swapped hospital birth bill horror stories on Twitter), and it should be because no one should be going into debt for giving birth.

Paid family leave deserves debate attention.

Ahead of tonight's debate the fifth annual American Family Survey (a collaborative effort by the Deseret News, the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University and YouGov) was released. It surveyed 3,000 citizens and found that men are significantly more likely to have access to paid family leave at work, and that men take home a larger percentage of their typical income compared to women while on leave (75% compared to 68%).

There is a gender pay gap even when it comes to parental leave and low-income parents receive the lowest percentage of their pay while on leave (from employers, government and all possible sources), leaving America's most vulnerable working parents with the least support.

The survey also found that "of four family leave proposals currently being considered by Congress, none were favored by a majority of Americans," but that the FAMILY Act was the most popular, winning over 57% of Democratic voters and 35% of Republicans. (The proposals were not labeled as being sponsored by Democrats or Republicans, the survey takers were judging just the plans themselves).

We know that the candidates taking the stage tonight have their own thoughts on paid leave, so it's interesting that they have not been speaking up about these ideas on the debate stage so far.

"It isn't for lack of policy options—most candidates agree and are on the record in support of the FAMILY Act, which would create a national paid leave program that covers all working people in an affordable and sustainable way. And it isn't for lack of the candidates' own personal connections to the issue. I hope tonight's debate will be a turning point, where each candidate articulates their ideas for ensuring no working person is forced to choose between seeing their baby's first smile or hearing their parent's last words and putting food on their family's table," Shabo says.

Candidates, you have our attention tonight. We hope we have yours.

The debate kicks off at 8 ET.

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