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Murray Highlights Importance of Paid Leave for Working Parents, Discusses Impacts on Federal Budget

Jul 30 2014

Murray: Paid leave is ‘a critical piece of the puzzle’ when it comes to improving employment situation and leveling playing field for women

(Washington, D.C.—) Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), senior member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, attended a HELP hearing on the benefits of paid family leave for businesses and working families. Senator Murray discussed with expert witnesses the need to ensure employers offer paid leave policies that help both working parents and businesses.

Research has shown that when women take paid family leave after the birth of a child, they are more likely to return to work within a year and return to work for the same employer,” Senator Murray said.  “This is good for families, employers, and as it turns out, for the federal budget. As the Chair of the Budget Committee, I’m especially interested in a set of findings from research done in states with paid leave laws that women who take paid leave are 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance, and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps, in the year following a child’s birth, when compared to those who do not take any leave.”

Additional information on Senator Murray’s efforts to promote policies that help women and their families can be found here and here.  

Transcript of Senator Murray’s remarks:

Senator Murray: I really want to thank you for holding this incredibly important hearing.  Paid leave is really a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to improving our employment situation, leveling the playing field, addressing inequalities in pay, and career advancement, and retirement savings so that our families have a fair shot.

But before I get to my questions, Chairwoman Hagan, I just want to commend you for your work on this committee over this past year.

In just over a year as chair, I just want to note, that this subcommittee, under your leadership, has had hearings on: the importance of expanding financial literacy, as we know to the Chairman Harkin that became part of our legislative language passed out of this Committee; you had a hearing on the achievements of the newborn screening system that led to bipartisan passage in the Senate as well; and more recently a hearing to raise awareness about the dangers of child trafficking. So I just really want to commend you on your great leadership on this Committee.

As far as this topic, this is so important to families across the country today who are really struggling in a very tough economy where women do need to go back to work. It’s an important part of their family’s economic agenda.  And paid family leave is really an important piece of the puzzle as I mentioned.

Research has shown that when women take paid family leave after the birth of a child, they are more likely to return to work within a year and return to work for the same employer, as everyone here has said.  So that’s good for families, that’s good for employers, and as it turns out, it’s good for the federal budget.

I sit here today as Chair of the Budget Committee, and I’m especially interested in a set of findings from research done in our states with paid leave laws that women who take paid leave are 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance, and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps, in the year following a child’s birth, than those who do not have family leave. So I think this is an important point and Ms. Shabo, I won’t take much time here ‘cause I know a lot of members have questions, but I just wanted—If  you could take a minute and further expand on the fiscal benefits that flow to the federal government from paid leave policies. We’re talking about reduced use of job training programs, unemployment insurance, Medicaid. Is there data to back up any of those arguments?

Jeannine Shabo: We don’t have hard data on those other sort of programs that you’ve talked about, although I think that’s fascinating.  I think one of the things we really need to do as we are having this conversation about the impacts of paid leave is consider what it’s costing us to not have a national paid leave program. What it’s costing us, as you’ve mentioned, in unemployment, and housing subsidies, and job training programs. Thinking about the fact that the lowest wage workers—

Murray: And Medicaid.

Jeannine Shabo: And those in the lowest wage jobs, are not having access to paid leave, which is creating opportunities not to advance, but rather to face these impossible choices that cause them to leave their jobs and therefor rely on the public assistance programs that you’re talking about. When instead what we could be doing is creating opportunity, creating a playing field where people are able to take care of their families, whether they’re caring for old people or young people, whether they’re caring for a sick spouse or a sick parent, stay in the job and succeed over time. Just one fact that’s interesting, particularly as we’re thinking about the sandwich generation, is that women, in particular, who take time off, who have to leave the workforce to care for an older parent, lose $324,000 in wages and retirements savings—that’s both Social Security and private pensions. And that’s a conservative estimate. So when you think about that, you’re thinking about not only people who are working and plan to work for years, but you’re also thinking about people who are hitting retirement age who need to be able to have that cushion and we need to keep more people working so that we can provide for Social Security and also other public programs, but also people can provide for themselves.

Murray: I think those are great points, and I hope that we really look at this as we continue to pursue this. Not only the cost of the federal government, because of other challenges that are—these women face and end up requiring other federal assistance, but also the fact that this is a life-long earnings issue that hits women, it’s not just, Ms. Sato, when you lost your income while you were home for a few weeks or a few months, it’s what happens to you when you retire and you’ve lost that earning and therefore your retirement is less as well. So this is a huge women’s economic issue and it’s important to men, women, families, and businesses. So I really appreciate your having this hearing today. Thank you.