Security and Stability: The Importance of Paid Leave
In 1992, Lauren and her husband Steve, of Mercerville, New Jersey, welcomed their daughter Stephanie to the family. They didn’t know it at the time, but they would become the textbook argument for paid family and medical leave, both in their home state and across the country.
“Like most expectant mothers, I thought I would have a typical maternity leave and go right back to work,” Lauren recalls. “But unfortunately Stephanie was born with a serious kidney disease and her kidney function was only 15 percent.”
Lauren used all of her accrued sick, personal and vacation time to stay at home and care for her newborn daughter. After six months, she went back to work, but Stephanie was still sick – and Lauren had to take a second leave.
“We were fortunate that the Federal Medical Leave Act, which is the federal law, had just gone into effect. The unfortunate part about that was that it was unpaid leave. So despite the fact that we had no debts, we had no credit cards, student loans, car loans, any of that, we went $20,000 in debt. We almost lost our home.”
Ever since Stephanie was born, her parents knew that one day she would need a kidney transplant. That moment came when she turned 17. But her body at first rejected the new kidney, and Lauren and Steve took turns taking leave from work and helping their daughter with her recovery.
This time, though, things were different. New Jersey had recently become one of the first states in the U.S. to pass paid family medical leave.
“I think it helped her survive,” Steve says. “I think if we hadn’t been there for her, she would have had a rougher time than she did.”
Lauren adds: “Because of paid family leave, we knew we didn’t have to worry financially. We didn’t have that burden. We knew we’d keep our home and everything would be okay.”
Lauren and Steve’s story is featured in a brand new report published by The Arc and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. (You can see the video version of their story here.) The report, Security and Stability: The Importance of Paid Family and Medical Leave to People with Disabilities and Their Families, finds that only one in seven workers in the U.S. has access to paid leave for a family member.
This is despite the fact that nearly one in five Americans have a disability, and physical, mental and sensory disabilities affect people of all ages, including around 3.7 million children, 26.3 million working-age adults, and 17.4 million seniors.
Lauren and Steve’s experience involves family members caring for a daughter with disabilities. But another huge, unmet need involves workers who themselves have disabilities. The Arc/Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality report focuses on paid leave for both people with disabilities who receive care and people with or without disabilities who provide support and services to them.
The report notes that economic stability for individuals with disabilities, including through employment, has been a core goal of the disability rights movement. “Like all workers, workers with disabilities may need to access paid leave to welcome a new child, to provide care for a family member with a serious medical condition, or if they experience their own serious medical condition,” the report states. “Despite policymakers’ apparent interest in both paid leave and in increasing employment and economic security among households with disabilities, the two issues are rarely discussed together.”
You can see the full report here.