Year of the Family

Year of the Family

Year of the Family
January 30, 2014

This past year, I husbanded all of my vacation, personal and sick days, and combining these with two weekends, managed to string together 18 days away from work—by far the longest consecutive amount of time I had been able to take off in well over half a decade.

The sweetest part of this time off also made stark my greatest sadness. You see, those 18 days were the longest continuous stretch that I had gotten to spent with my five-year-old daughter in her life—including when she was born.

Since then I have reflected time and again upon how empty is our state’s talk about the importance of family when we do not provide paid maternity or paternity leave beyond the meager disability benefits pregnant mothers can receive, which are generally an insufficient fraction of the pay they depend upon to help support their families, thus necessitating that they quickly return to work after giving birth.

Dads have it even worse. Rather than extolling the essential role of fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives—a practice, as studies have shown, that when cultivated from day one takes root for years to come—our state instead tacitly sanctions the premise that New Yorkers’ foremost responsibility should be not to their families, but to their employers.

This policy could not be more backwards not only from a moral standpoint, but an economic one as well. Fathers who are not penalized for staying home with their newborns provide emotional and physical support to mothers, which, as an excellent recent article in The Atlantic explains, promotes the smooth return of women to their jobs, and engenders a more equitable division of labor in domestic life. At the same time, men are absolved from the resentment they harbor against their employers for compelling them to choose bread earning over those for whom they are earning their bread, making them, as a result, better, more grateful employees.

Opponents of paid family leave reflexively label any effort to make our system more humane a “job killer”—an argument that has been proven fallacious by states like California that have done so. Moreover, the cost of providing leave need not be a drain on New York’s coffers.

New Jersey funds its six weeks of paid family leave insurance through a worker payroll deduction of .001 percent. In 2014, the maximum annual contribution per worker is capped at a nearly imperceptible $31.50. And employers don’t pay a dime.

If Gov. Cuomo and our legislators really want to earn the appreciation of voters, they should make 2014 the Year of the Family in New York by enacting paid family leave. The governor has said he wants to alleviate the strain on our state’s families by cutting taxes. A tax break would be nice—my family, like so many others, will happily deposit that check. But it will be no substitute for the precious time that we have lost with our children—time that we can never have back.

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Morgan Pehme