Letter to the editor: U.S. failing to support young families

Our great country. Or so we believe. People come from all over the world to our country, America, to begin their better life. They come here because we project the idea of the American dream. But can the American dream still be a reality when we don’t even give the families with new babies paid leave from work? Only America and Papua New Guinea don’t have paid family leave or some variation of it. Only America and Papua New Guinea, a country that many would struggle to find on a map.
How can that still be our reality? We were once the greatest country in the world but how can we still say that with our mothers and fathers having to come back to work way too early because they couldn’t afford to be away from work for long.
Yes, we give them 12 weeks but it is unpaid and only about 40% of the workers in America meet the requirements for this law. There are many requirements to even get this small insurance of your job still being there when you come back to work. One of them is that you must have been at this job for at least one year and another is that you must work there with 50 or more employees and have worked 1,250 hours that year. With these many requirements, people can’t reliably get even those 12 weeks.
The other 60% of workers in America have to scrape together their leave with sick and vacation days.
Sixty percent of our workforce shouldn’t have to do this. We should have laws in place to help mothers and fathers. And that is why I must applaud California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island for being the first three states to put in place a law that helps the 40% of workers with 12 weeks leave to now have six weeks of paid leave. By following their lead, we can also get six weeks or more of paid family leave and to expand to the other 60% of the workforce. Our legislators have already written a bill like this so let’s make it happen. California has already decided to expand its law to help include more people in a law that will go into place in 2020.
Let’s face it, America is behind but we can do something about it; let’s become the next state to make paid family leave the law.
I talked with our local expert on the topic, Tanya Byker, a professor of Economics at Middlebury College, and she told me that in California and New Jersey they take a very small percentage of each employee’s paycheck and put it into a fund so when someone is out on leave they can still get paid 60% or 66% of their normal paycheck depending on where you live (California 60, New Jersey 66). When the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993 there was a lot of push back from people who were afraid that it would hurt the economy or business but after some time it faded into the background; paid family leave is the same thing. With the system that California has come up with it is 100% employee funded. Businesses say that they hardly even know that paid family leave is there. So why shouldn’t we do this? It doesn’t hurt anyone, but it is so beneficial to the people in our workforce.
We as a state must rally together to achieve this in Vermont. We as Vermonters pride ourselves on many things ranging from our fantastic maple syrup to the number of cows we have. Let’s make this one of the things that we can take pride in too. This would be a huge step for us as a state. There are many problems in our world and country so why not write to your legislator and our governor to help fix this one today? This is an easy fix since there is already a system that has been proven to work and help the mothers and fathers of our nation, so let’s take the leap and land on the other side with California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — the states leading this change.
I understand that the taxes in Vermont are already on the high side and some people’s concerns are that the taxes will rise even more. But there are only two options right now, one that has everyone get a slight increase in taxes on their paycheck and when they need it they will get six weeks off with pay and another, that Gov. Scott proposed in 2019, about paid family leave on a voluntary basis. Some people would say, “Great that makes sense that people who need it will get it and the rest of us will not need to pay for it,” but researchers in New Hampshire came up with a simulation that predicted that “premiums would increase by 1.3 to 1.6 times if participation rates dropped to 70% and 35%, respectively” (Hayes, J. and Berlan M. Cost and Benefits of Family and Medical Leave for New Hampshire Workers. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017).
So, in the end, the best options come back to everyone must chip in a little and everyone who needs it will get paid family leave for a much smaller price.
In other countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, and Luxemburg they give paid maternity leave. In Bulgaria, they give 60 weeks at 90% of your paycheck; in Greece they give you 40 weeks at 50% of your paycheck. But in Luxemburg, you get 20 weeks at 100% of your paycheck. Even with this huge argument about six weeks and 60% of your paycheck we still are doing the bare minimum. Even Portugal had six weeks with 100% of your paycheck. That is why I must urge you as a citizen of Vermont to help create the change we need and get paid family leave.
Audrey Carpenter
Editor’s note: The writer is an eighth-grader at Middlebury Union Middle School.

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