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The U.S. stands alone among nations in its lack of guaranteed paid time off for new mothers and fathers, but this seems likely to change. President Obama brought up paid family leave in his State of the Union address back in January. A federal bill guaranteeing paid leave was proposed, failed to move out of committee and is likely to be proposed again. Meanwhile, a couple of states have passed laws guaranteeing a very minimal amount.
And then last night, paid time off after a baby became and actual point of discussion—not some out-there idea—during the first Election 2016 Democratic debate.
Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as Martin O'Malley, all offered strong support for a federal program for paid time off.
"I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I'm supposed to be in court, because I was practicing law," Clinton said. "I know what it's like. And I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms."
Sanders said, "Every other major country on Earth, every one, including some small countries, say that when a mother has a baby, she should stay home with that baby. We are the only major country. That is an international embarrassment that we do not provide family—paid family and medical leave."
O'Malley reminded viewers that, while he was governor of Maryland, paid leave expanded. "The genius of our nation is that we find ways in every generation to include more of our people more fully in the economic life of our country, and we need to do that for our families, and especially so that women aren't penalized in having to drop out of the workforce," he said. "We would be a stronger nation economically if we had paid family leave."
Already, some high-profile tech companies in Silicon Valley have begun offering a year of paid leave benefits, and there appears to be growing momentum. Even Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential hopeful, introduced his own plan for federally mandated paid maternity leave, though critics of his plan say it would only benefit those already well-off. (Netflix also came under fire for offering a plan that benefited only those in the corporate offices, not the hourly workers stuffing red envelopes.)
While discussion of guaranteed paid maternity leave is something of an overdue first for a presidential debate, some argue candidates aren't going far enough and that they're leaving out one crucial player what makes other countries' paid leave programs work to not penalize mothers: the fathers. Studies show guaranteed time off for fathers actually boosts women's earnings, narrows wage gaps and doesn't penalize women on the job market who may be intentionally passed over for an employer's fear she'll want to become a mother.
We're not used to domestic issues being fair game for debate, but maybe this election cycle, they'll be front and center as more candidates make it known just where they stand on family matters.