RALEIGH, N.C. – Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would guarantee paid family and medical leave for all North Carolina workers.
Only a small percentage of North Carolina’s workers have paid family leave, and most people eligible for unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act typically can’t afford to take it. A new study from Duke University found paid family leave would increase labor force participation and employee retention, and would also improve workers’ health.
Report co-author Anna Gassman-Pines, associate professor of public policy, psychology and neuroscience at Duke, explained.
“You know, why it’s been difficult to have paid family and medical leave is a really good question. I mean we are certainly an outlier as a country; globally, we’re one of only a handful of countries that don’t provide family and medical leave for our citizens,” Gassman-Pines said. “I think the biggest reason is that, in general, there is opposition to these types of programs from businesses.”
The study also found paid family and medical leave improves infant health, lowers infant mortality, and reduces the use of nursing-home care, by giving families the support needed to care for older relatives at home. House Bill 696 is co-sponsored by Rep. Asif Majeed, a Democrat, and nearly 20 other legislators.
Durham resident Kim Swanson found out she’d gotten her dream job in Raleigh. The next day, she found out she was pregnant, and she did not have paid leave when she gave birth to a baby girl. Shortly after getting home from the hospital, Swanson said, her husband lost his job.
“And I went back to work part-time at my position in Raleigh when she was just five weeks old. As a result of that, I ended up getting mastitis,” Swanson said. “My midwife said that it was likely brought on by stress. I was also diagnosed with postpartum depression, and still struggle with and receive treatment for anxiety and depression today.”
Swanson said the combined stress of new parenthood and not having a reliable source of income has had lasting effects.
“It’s an unfortunate situation that a lot of North Carolinians face,” she said. “I think that when we have our babies, we want to be joyful, and we want to make sure that we can provide for them, and we want to enjoy them. But what we experienced is fear in not knowing whether or not we were even going to be able to pay for the items that my baby needed.”
House Bill 696 would allow workers to apply for family and medical leave insurance benefits that would cover them from 12-26 weeks, depending on eligibility requirements.