WASHINGTON -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made many in his party happy Tuesday night when he told his colleagues that he had finally agreed to take the job no one wants and run for speaker of the House. But he said he will do so only if members agree to a list of conditions, most of which concern the functioning of the caucus. One demand, however, was deeply personal.
"I cannot and will not give up my family time," Ryan told reporters following the House GOP meeting.
Ryan is known among his colleagues as a "family guy" who goes back to Janesville, Wisconsin, every weekend to be with his wife and three young children.
“This is a job where you are expected to be on the road about a hundred days a year,” Ryan said in September. “Our kids are 10, 12 and 13, and I’m not going to do that.”
Ryan is lucky to be in a position where he can set the terms of his likely future employment. Many working parents aren't so fortunate.
The United States remains the only developed country with no guaranteed paid family leave policy, and Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama's attempts to make it law.
Most workers say they have access to unpaid leave, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. But only "53 percent of workers report being able to take some type of paid leave for their own illness and only 39 percent report being able to take some type of paid family leave for the birth of a child," according to a 2014 White House report.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that private sector managers and financial workers have access to paid leave at more than double the rate that service workers and construction workers do. The more a person makes, the more likely he or she is to get a paid leave policy.
And those low- and moderate-income families without access to paid leave also are the ones who usually were hit hardest by the budget cuts Ryan proposed when he served as Budget Committee chairman. (He took over as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee this year.)
Female politicians have faced far more scrutiny for their decisions to balance family and work. In Ryan's case, no one -- besides, perhaps, the congressman himself -- ever worried that he would be able to handle the demanding job of speaker while being a "good" father and a husband to his young family. But female politicians aren't often given the same benefit of the doubt.
While running for vice president, Ryan rarely, if ever, received questions about how he could juggle his political and family duties. That was a very different experience than what Sarah Palin faced when she ran as Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) running mate four years earlier, when she constantly had to respond to concerns about how she could take care of her five children with such a busy schedule.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) was often asked how old her kids were when she ran for governor in 2000. She would respond that they were the same age as the children of her male opponent.
Ryan's concerns about his work-life balance mirror those of many other men, who are increasingly calling for paternity leave and more family time. According a February HuffPost/YouGov poll, 67 percent of Americans favor paid maternity leave, and 55 percent support paid paternity leave.
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