The Optimistic Future for Paid Family Leave
Jeannette Rankin, a champion of women’s suffrage, was the first female was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by the state of Montana in 1916. It was not until 57 years later, in 1973, that Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California, became the first member of Congress to give birth while in office. Last April, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth became the first senator to give birth while in office. Shortly thereafter, in order to accomodate Senator Duckworth and her newborn, the Senate unanimously passed a law to allow infants under one year to be present on the Senate floor.
Since Representative Rankin took office, we have seen an visible rise in the number of federal female lawmakers. Early this month, a record 102 women were elected to Congress in the midterm elections.
In recent years, Capitol Hill has been faced with the opportunity and obligation to become more female-friendly and parent-friendly when it comes to leave policy for mothers and fathers and accessibility to nursing facilities for mothers.
With this uptick in female lawmakers alongside the reality that many women are now waiting until they are older before they have children, there are new considerations for members of congress who wish to start families. A relatively younger incoming class of legislators from across the United States will hopefully boost our lawmakers to consider the importance of supporting parents of young children. These women will have the opportunity to bring a stronger female perspective to Congress, allowing for the possibility of moving support for parents towards the front of the legislative agenda. A recent study by the Pew Research Center discovered that 67 percent of Americans support paid family leave, not only for members of Congress, but for all working Americans.
A long-time supporter of paid family leave, Ivanka Trump has been interested in paid family leave as “an investment in America’s working families,” and President Trump has also been supportive of the initiative, mentioning his support for paid parental leave in both his 2017 and 2018 State of the Union addresses.
In a recent op-ed in the National Review, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum described his optimism that, despite our divided Congress, we will be able to address the importance of supporting working parents after the birth of a new child during that child’s crucial early months of development. “Supporting the families raising the next generation is vital to our nation’s long-term success and prosperity,” he writes. “Healthy, well-behaved children prepared to learn will create a better learning environment for all of our children. We must face the reality that our laws and our culture have made it much harder for moms and dads to succeed at that task. It’s time to give parents the flexibility they need to be with them at the most crucial times of their lives.”
Hopefully, the increasing number of women and young parents in the congressional area will create an incentive for a bipartisan solution to support parents with young children. Family leave is not simply a conservative or a liberal issue, nor is it exclusively a female issue. The stability and support of our nation’s families should be of the utmost importance for all Americans, especially our representatives, both new and old.
Maggie Dever is a senior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies and living off campus. She is a southern belle who hails from North Carolina. Please reach her at Mary.M.Dever.firstname.lastname@example.org.