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Parental Leave: Is It Fair To Employees Without Kids?

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Flickr Photo/DonkerDink (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/

The Seattle City Council on Monday rejected another attempt to increase paid family leave for city workers from four weeks to 12. Estimated cost: $1.5 million a year.

On The Record earlier, Bill Radke heard about the pros and cons of paid parental leave from Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, and Paul Guppy, vice president of research for the Washington Policy Center.

Some critics say paid parental leave isn't fair to people who don't have kids and don't plan to. But advocates of such leave say every other developed country gives that much or more for nearly all workers.

"We have a modern labor force where women are 50 percent of the labor force for the first time in history and 82 percent of women do have kids by the time they're 44 years old, but our public policies are stuck in the stone ages," Rowe-Finkbeiner said. "That means things like paid family leave are far, far behind what our modern labor force needs. And that's hurting our business, it's hurting our economy. And it's hurting our families."

But Guppy said there's a problem with who gets such leave.

"It's only targeted for certain workers who can access this benefit," he said. "A more flexible way to go would be to provide a benefit for everyone -- paid leave for a person to take for whatever reason."

Rowe-Finkbeiner said there are sound economic reasons to give paid leave to parents.

"Studies show that in places where paid parental leave is in place, like California, that we save our local taxpayers tremendous amounts of money -- and in fact there is 40 percent less use of food stamps. Moms are more likely to be in the labor force a year after giving birth if they have some form of paid parental leave. There's a significant decrease in infant and maternal mortality.

She pointed to employers who are expanding such benefits or providing them for the first time. Microsoft and Amazon recently changed their policies to provide more paid leave.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently said in a post that he would take two months off when his daughter is born. Zuckerberg said that "studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families."

Guppy said the difference is that those are private businesses making decisions about what's profitable for them.

"I don't think many city employees are on food stamps -- I don't think it's the same problem," he said. "These benefits and all other services from the city are paid by taxes of working families that are there actually paying for better benefits for people who work for the city than they have for themselves."

The City Council declined to include expanded leave when it approved the 2016 budget on Monday. The King County Council is also considering a 12-week leave policy.

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