Democratic presidential candidates can tap into broad voter support and accelerating progress for an issue nearly all Americans face, but with outsized effects on economically disadvantaged communities.
Bipartisan support for paid family leave has mounted for years, and the next president is likely to have the opportunity to deliver on this critical policy issue. With 84 percent of voters in support of paid family leave but only 17 percent of workers having access to this benefit, Americans are eager to hear how candidates intend to get a new federal policy across the finish line.
The Democratic debates offer a perfect opportunity to establish positions on paid family and medical leave. And doing so in Detroit, an incredible city ripe for reinvestment and regrowth of the small businesses, will have special resonance given the small business community’s central role in the paid leave debate.
When I started managing my own companies, I remember spending all day getting business and then all night long getting the business done. At some point, nearly all working Americans will also have to find the time to care for an elderly parent, a new baby, or a sick loved one. But those who can least afford to miss a paycheck and most need help to tide them through the rough times – including low income, minority, and small business workers – do not have access to paid leave.
I started ProAmérica Bank, a commercial bank that focuses on small to mid-sized businesses in underserved communities, to eliminate artificial barriers to minorities in the workplace—barriers I came to understand better during my tenure as head of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Though Latinx workers have the highest labor force participation rate of any demographic, the National Partnership for Women & Families’ (NPWF) reports that many of these Americans work in low-wage jobs that do not provide paid leave or paid family leave.
Small businesses are finding that paid family leave helps them retain talent and save costs by reducing employee turnover. Yet many small business owners struggle to finance this benefit for their employees, and without the clarity of a national policy, will struggle to manage different state and local requirements. Meanwhile, their employees will continue to struggle to meet their job and caregiving responsibilities.
I hope our next president is ready to ascend the stage and describe an actionable and comprehensive path forward on paid family leave. This is an issue that goes to the heart of the everyday struggles faced by millions of working families in this country and it represents just the sort of real-life, real-world challenge I’d like our next president to tackle and resolve. The American people are ready.
( Maria Contreras-Sweet is a member of BPC’s Board of Directors and a co-chair of BPC’s Task Force on Paid Family Leave. Contreras-Sweet served as an Obama Cabinet Secretary as the 24th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). She started ProAmérica Bank, a commercial bank focusing on small to mid-sized businesses, to serve economically disadvantaged communities.)