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The U.S. is the only wealthy nation in the world not to guarantee paid leave from work for new parents or individuals or families battling illness, and lately, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have suggested it’s time for this to change. The two competing plans right now, when put in perspective, would be either the stingiest or the fourth-stingiest plan among the advanced economies. And what we know about what works and is feasible is now more robust than ever.
On Wednesday, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and UCLA School of Public Health released the most comprehensive report of paid family and medical leave research around the world. Based on review of over 5,500 studies, medical analysis, and economic analysis of individual countries, Jody Heymann, the study’s senior author, says it’s clear that if the U.S. implemented a program aligning with the study’s findings, “families would be less likely to fall into poverty, women would have better economic outcomes in terms of their earnings, which contributes to family earnings, and the U.S. would be every bit as able to compete and have as low an unemployment rate."
Many people in the U.S. think of paid leave as a business benefit, or even a luxurious perk, that employers should provide. But this study shows that most countries have succeeded by providing it as a social insurance scheme—implemented through a public program or social security system.