Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: Every Other Industrialized Nation Has Paid Leave, Why Not Us?

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is working with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to make paid family leave for all American workers a reality, with a proposal to grant 12 weeks of paid leave at up to $1,000 a week as an "earned benefit" by creating a small payroll tax.

The tax, which comes in at two-tenths of 1 percent of workers' salaries, would amount to about $100 for a worker making $50,000 a year. And while many members of Congress, especially those on the left, think American workers deserve better options for paid leave, they haven't shown overwhelming support for Gillibrand's proposal.

Gillibrand sat down for an interview with Salon's Joan Walsh last week to discuss the plan, which has garnered 88 co-sponsors. The senator called the economic repercussions for failing to provide paid leave "absurd."

"Just because you have a family emergency, it shouldn’t mean you’re going to have to ramp off your career, take a different job, quit for a certain amount of time -- all of which damages the strength of the family, and the economy," she told Salon. "It’s such a negative drag on the economy."

So why the lack of support for paid leave when, as Gillibrand points out, "every other industrialized nation has it"? Gillibrand posits most members of Congress come from a place of privilege and can't relate to American workers who would benefit from such a program.

"Very few members of Congress, I suspect, have dropped a child off at day care," she said. "Very few members of Congress know exactly how much day care costs, because they didn’t pay those bills. And so for a lot of members of Congress, they don’t relate to the issue -- either because they have enormous wealth so they have unlimited caregivers, or they’re men whose wives chose to stay at home and they had the resources to do that. They don’t realize that eight out of 10 mothers are working today, and most don’t have the support through every family emergency through their lifetime. They’re gonna be forced to ramp off, take time off, change jobs."

Gillibrand also hammered in the notion that paid leave isn't just about maternity leave and isn't just a women's issue. She said those benefiting from the program include anyone with sick family members or dying parents, and that the issue applies to any man who believes his wife deserves equal pay or access to affordable day care.

And on the topic of women's issues, Gillibrand said it is time for a "wakeup call" -- that women are stifled not only because they're underrepresented, but also because "we don't ask for anything."

"So we need a wakeup call, we need a Rosie the Riveter call for our generation. When women were asked to join the workplace in the war industries, 6 million more women joined the workplace by the end of World War II. I want 6 million more women to become vocal and active in politics, asking for what they want."

Read the full interview at Salon.

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