The United States is the only industrialized nation without a formal policy that guarantees workers paid time off when they become new parents. To support healthy families and strengthen the economy, cities should consider implementing paid parental leave policies.
Although the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible workers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year for caregiving activities, only 14 percent of civilian workers have access to paid family leave.
Paid parental leave policies have been shown to promote wellness for both children and parents. For infants, paid parental leave is associated with decreased rates of low birthweight, fewer infant deaths, and increased rates of breastfeeding. Paid parental leave also has help benefits for new mothers including a reduced risk for experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. For fathers, the length of leave offered is positively correlated with involvement with families.
Research shows paid parental leave also supports the economy. With paid leave options, families do not have to worry about risking financial insecurity and are less likely to have to use the social safety net. Within the private sector, paid parental leave improves worker productivity and retention, saving employers money by reducing turnover costs.
Several cities have enacted paid parental leave policies, including Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri.
In 2013, the City of Austin became the first Texas city to offer paid parental leave. Under Austin’s program city employees are eligible take up to thirty days off at full pay for the birth and care of a child, or placement of a child for adoption or foster care. Parental leave may be used any time within a calendar year of the child’s birth or adoption or foster placement and can be taken all at once or dispersed throughout the year as needed. This can be very helpful to working parents who may want to stagger parental leave time to increase their time at home with their new family member. In tech-heavy Austin, thirty days of leave at full pay rivals perks from tech and Fortune 500 companies, which are more likely than government to offer access to paid family leave.
In May, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and the Early Matters Greater Austin (EMGA) alliance of business leaders launched a Family-Friendly Workplace Toolkit. The toolkit notes some of the benefits of providing paid parental leave include improved talent attraction, and employee retention and engagement. This month the Austin City Council approved a resolution directing the city manager to conduct an assessment of the city’s employment practices and identify areas in which the city could improve to become a more family-friendly employer.
Kansas City, Missouri
In 2016, the City of Kansas City, Miss. introduced a paid parental leave policy. After viewing a screening of documentary The Raising of America and learning about the critical impact of paid leave on early childhood health, Mayor Sly James worked with the city manager’s office to survey employees about the city’s work culture. Employees strongly supported paid leave and in May 2016 the city’s comprehensive paid leave policy began offering regular and appointed city employees six weeks—and up to eight weeks in certain circumstances—of paid leave at full pay, due to the birth or adoption of a child.
In Kansas City, the Mayor’s Office, Women’s Foundation and the Society of Human Resource Management of Greater Kansas City worked to bring the When Work Works Initiative to Kansas City. The initiative recognizes local employers that create more flexible and effective workplaces, including those that implemented paid leave policies.
To learn more about NLC’s Cities Supporting a Strong Prenatal to Age 3 Agenda initiative and its Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce initiative of which Austin and Kansas City participate respectively, visit the early childhood success programs in the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.
About the Author: Vera Feeny is an associate for the cities connecting children to nature and early childhood success programs in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.