A regular refrain from Republicans is asserting they are the only advocates for families in America, and yet every aspect of their never-changing agenda is working against what they claim is the backbone of a strong America. Whether it is opposing decent wages, gender pay equity, affordable healthcare, or slashing education budgets, eliminating pensions, and withholding assistance for struggling Americans, there is no area of family life that is not adversely affected by Republican policies. An integral part of strong families is the ability to take time out of a busy life of work to care for loved ones, regardless of age, when the need arises, and there is no-one in Washington fighting to strengthen families as hard as President Obama.
During his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Obama spent time promoting a White House Summit on Working Families scheduled for Monday between business leaders and workers to discuss challenges working parents face every day, and how the two sides can address them together. One thing was immediately clear listening to the President; he is fervent in his support for families and addressed why America’s workplace standards lag in comparison to the rest of the developed world and are ultimately detriment to working families, business, and the nation’s economy.
The President noted that “Only three countries in the world don’t offer paid maternity leave. Three. And the United States is one of them. It’s time to change that. A few states have acted on their own to give workers paid family leave, but this should be available to everyone, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for a family member in need.” The President also pointed out that only three states in America offer workers maternity or family need time and said it was time for all Americans to be able to “afford” to care for a family member in need. Many employers do not even give unpaid time off to care for a new baby or ailing family member, which is why the President’s carefully worded “be able to ‘afford’ to care for a family member” will not please Republicans in Congress or state legislatures.
President Obama also noted that “most working families I know can’t afford thousands a year for childcare that leaves parents scrambling just to make sure their kids are safe while they’re at work – forget about high-quality early childhood education that helps kids succeed in life.” He also addressed workers’ ability to work from home if a child is sick, or take time to make parent-teacher conferences that most workers want, but can hardly afford it even if their employers are “generous” and offer unpaid time off. The President cited studies that demonstrated paid leave makes workers more productive and reduces turnover and absenteeism that is good for business.
In fact, the study the President cited, “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave,” investigated the three states that mandate businesses provide maternity and family leave and discovered that there is no downside to providing what all but three countries in the developed world offer. The survey of 253 businesses affected by California’s paid family leave initiative found that “the vast majority of businesses, well over 90%, reported either positive or no noticeable effects on profitability, turnover, or morale.” Obviously, most workers relish the idea of not facing economic ruin for taking time off of work to care for a new baby or an ailing parent, so the report focused on the cost and benefits of paid family leave programs from an employer perspective. The consensus is that besides the positive effects on long-term productivity, recruitment, retention, and employee motivation were greatly enhanced by offering something nearly every developed nation on Earth provides their workforce.
Although the President cited the need for women in the workforce to have time to care for their families and still work, he specifically noted that men also care about “who’s watching their kids, rearranging their schedules to attend school functions, care for their aging parents, and spend time at home during their new baby’s first weeks in the world.” As the President spoke, it was apparent that not only is he deeply concerned with strengthening families, but that America’s archaic workplace standards “put us way behind the times,” does not contribute to worker satisfaction, and is not good for business.
As is their wont, Republicans claim giving workers any benefits is the death knell for businesses, and it is a pathetic excuse for their anti-worker policies at every level whether it is workplace safety, decent wages, or even unpaid sick leave. It is irrefutable that Republicans are American workers’ greatest enemy whether they oppose the minimum wage (forget raising it ), attempt to eliminate workplace safety regulations, rob workers’ pensions, destroy unions, or eliminate overtime pay. The concepts of mandatory paid maternity or family leave are, like mandatory paid vacations, policies Republicans will oppose en masse under the guise of protecting business profits. However, in the great majority of developed nations where paid vacations, paid sick leave, and paid maternity leave for fathers and mothers are mandatory, businesses are just as profitable as American business. Combined with minimum wages twice that of America, foreign businesses thrive despite Republican claims to the contrary.
Republicans claim forcing women into perpetual birthing proves their devotion to families, but they have opposed something as family friendly as paid maternity leave after the baby is born to either take women out of the workforce, or deprive them of the all-important time with their newborns. California is the first state in the nation to mandate paid maternity leave and businesses are thriving and the benefit strengthens families as well as the bond between employer and employee.
Where Republicans are the antithesis of family friendly, President Obama is a champion of strong families and he is taking the necessary steps to correct the conditions Republicans have pushed over the past decades. Throughout the President’s tenure in the White House, he has advocated prosperity and opportunities for all Americans to succeed, and part of that success is predicated on strong working families that he said means “our economy grows best from the middle-out, and that “our country does better when everybody participates.” Integral to everyone participating are workplace policies that foster productivity and worker satisfaction, and as he has done since his first day in office, this President reiterated “that’s the America I’ll keep fighting for every day.” Unfortunately for Americans, Republicans have spent five years fighting against working American families just as stridently as the President fights for them and there is every reason to believe they will increase their attacks on working families in response to the President’s radio address.