The U.S. Needs To Catch Up To The Rest Of The World With Paid Sick Leave

| by Will Hagle

It took longer than many voters had hoped, but President Obama is finally pushing to make certain progressive social policies a reality in America. He’s advocated for free community college, discussed his plan for net neutrality and vowed to use executive action to overhaul the U.S. immigration policy. He’s done all of this during his final two years in office, facing the strongest Republican Congress of his entire tenure. But he’s doing it nonetheless, and he’s learned from past mistakes regarding the muddling down of socialized health care that became the Affordable Care Act. It might be a last-ditch effort to leave the legacy that his campaign promised, but better late than never. 

In a post published today on unlikely website LinkedIn, the president’s Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett announced a renewed call for paid sick leave for all working Americans. The proposal would require companies to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave each year. In the article’s headline alone, Jarrett describes paid leave as a “worker’s right, not a privilege.” This idea is something that’s been successfully tested at the state and local levels. California, Connecticut and Massachusetts all have passed paid sick leave legislation, as well as 16 cities. Even New York, the largest city in the nation, passed a paid sick leave law last year. 

As has been the case with many other social initiatives, the U.S. has been lagging behind most other developed nations in terms of viewing paid sick leave as an inherent right. The below chart, based on a study conducted by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, shows that the U.S. is the only country out of 22 rich nations that gives zero days off for a 50 day cancer treatment and only one of three countries with no pay for missing five days for the flu.  

Obama has also expressed an interest in using executive action in order to introduce six weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave for all federal employees. He's also encouraged Congress to do the same. Once again, the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave for its workers. Realistically, new parents likely need more than six weeks to adjust and take care of their families. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, Denmark offers one full year of paid maternity and paternity leave, and Sweden offers 420 days with 80% of a worker’s income guaranteed. The U.S. will never reach those numbers, but it’s embarrassing that our workers aren’t guaranteed pay after the birth or adoption of a child.

Even though American voters expressed their disapproval of the Obama administration and his Democratic Party during the 2014 midterm elections, it’s obvious that the country has fallen behind on many social issues. Although there is not much that the president could possibly accomplish in these last two years, at least his outspokenness on important issues is bringing them to the forefront of American consciousness. Obama is calling on Congress to pass the reforms, which are laid out under the Healthy Families Act. As with every progressive measure this administration introduces, Republican disapproval. Especially on issues like this, in which we’re so obviously behind the rest of the world, it’s important for Washington to overcome its bipartisan pettiness and pass laws that will benefit all of our citizens.