“Jane” is a young mother who has worked at a call center for two years. When she was pregnant with her second daughter, she worked full-time up until she went into labor. “My work doesn’t pay for maternity leave, but they told me they would hold my job if I returned within the month,” she said. Like 20 percent of new mothers in the US, Jane returned to work two weeks after giving birth. She said she is sad she can’t breastfeed and be present with her child in the crucial first months of life.
Jane is a client of Parenting por Vida, formerly known as Mom’s Place, based in Phoenix. It’s one of the hundreds of faith-based nonprofits that give expectant and new moms financial and emotional support throughout pregnancy and beyond. Many clients grew up in poverty, steeped in trauma and abuse. But director Susan Leon said she’s impressed by the young parents’ resilience. After 17 years, the first cohort of children raised by these parents is finishing high school, and among the second generation, teen pregnancy is rare.
Even still, Leon says, most of her clients find the work-family balance extremely precarious. A majority of them work low-wage shift jobs that provide little flexibility and have no maternity leave policy, even unpaid. Yet working outside the home is an economic imperative. For low-income families, childcare presents less-than-ideal options, such as expensive childcare centers or care from extended family, which can be dangerous if there is addiction or abuse.
Jane is one of the dozens of parents that Center for Public Justice (CPJ) resident fellow Rachel Anderson and I profiled for a new report, “Time to Flourish: Protecting Families’ Time for Work and Caregiving.” The report picks up on larger cultural conversations about paid family leave. In 2017, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Brookings—two DC think tanks on different sides of the ideological spectrum—released a groundbreaking report arguing the need for federal paid family leave. The AEI–Brookings report argues from the basis of the changing employee landscape in the US, women’s advancement, and widespread public support. Last week, a Senate subcommittee held a hearing on paid family leave, including a proposal championed by Ivanka Trump. During the hearing, both Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that a policy compromise is needed.
Alongside AEI and Brookings, we at CPJ believe that generous family leave makes good business sense, helping to retain talented employees and improve morale and productivity. But our report is ultimately driven by theology, not the economy. CPJ affirms that family is the smallest yet most foundational human institution and that the health of families and of society are bound up with one another. A healthy society is composed of healthy families, and healthy families flourish in a healthy society. This means that private and government policies must respect the family as an institution in its own right, not simply as a means to economic, political, or cultural ends.
In the formation of American public policy, the flourishing of children—among the most vulnerable members of a society—must be given particular attention. Christian communities are well equipped to protect children and advocate in the public square for their flourishing, including addressing economic forces that deprive children of food, shelter, rest, and education and taking into account extended family separation due to parents’ work.
In a post-industrial, globalized economy, the economic pressures on all families are intensifying. A highly connected, consumer-driven market calls for people to produce, purchase, and consume around the clock. Job categories that typically require nonstandard or unpredictable hours—such as retail, restaurant, health care, and global customer service—are among the fastest growing in our economy. Blue-collar employees in these and other industries receive very limited benefits, if any, for paid family leave, sick days, or short-term disability, and this lack of benefits contributes to lack of family time.
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Source: Christianity Today