It's back-to-school time across North Carolina and that means in a few more weeks it will be time for report cards. Our state received a report card of its own this month – and the scores weren’t pretty. The National Partnership for Women and Families released a report, ranking states across the nation on basic workplace supports for new and expecting parents and North Carolina came in with a very disapointing "D."
The report, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help Expecting and New Parents, looked at a wide range of policies that help parents meet the needs of both their families and their workplaces.
North Carolina ranked among the 26 states who have done virtually nothing to advance paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, protections for pregnant workers or support nursing rights. The last time the North Carolina General Assembly gave any of these policies serious consideration was a study commission back in 2010.
Meanwhile, other states like California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have taken the initiative, passing state paid family leave insurance programs that provide partial-wage replacement while parents welcome a new child, recover from a serious illness themselves or care for a seriously ill family member.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, just 13 percent of U.S. workers have paid family leave through their employers. As a result, too many people have to choose between job and family. An analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data found that one-quarter of women surveyed by the department in 2012 were back at work within two weeks of giving birth.
The lack of paid leave is particularly unfortunate because research resoundingly shows positive benefits for children and parents including decreased infant and child mortality, higher rates and longer periods of breastfeeding, fewer low birth weight babies, higher rates of well-child checks and vaccinations, easier early detection and treatment of developmental delays, lower rates of depression amongst mothers, and higher levels of father involvement in child-rearing.
But parents know it’s not just welcoming a new child or serious illnesses that require time for caregiving. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are millions of cases of the common cold each year with adults having an average of 2 to 3 colds per year, and children even more. And, yet, more than 1.2 million North Carolinians – nearly 39 percent – have access to zero paid sick days. For those lucky enough to earn paid sick days, there is no guarantee that those days can be used to care for a sick child. State employees are able to flex their sick time for these purposes, but that right isn’t guaranteed to workers in the private sector.
When kids are sick, they can’t go to school or child care. Working parents are left struggling to piece it together. When children are forced to go to school sick or parents return to work sick, it also creates public health challenges with high costs for our state. Every year MomsRising hears from North Carolina moms who have lost the jobs their families depend upon because their child got sick.
Other states such as Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut and more have recognized this problem and taken action to guarantee workers the ability to earn a limited number of paid sick days each year that can be used for a worker’s own illnesses, to care for an ill family member or for personal or family medical visits. Twelve states also have flexible sick time requirement that permits workers to use accrued paid sick time as leave to care for a new child and/or a spouse or partner with a pregnancy-related disability. North Carolina families deserve these guarantees, too.
Simply put, a “D” is an unacceptable grade. North Carolina needs to do much better by Tar Heel moms, dads and our families. With three-quarters of mothers in the workplace and 70 percent of N.C. kids living in households where all available parents work, these are challenges we can no longer wait to address.
Workplace policies that address the caregiving needs of working families not only help ensure families’ economic security, they benefit businesses, the state economy, and public health. Other states are showing us that better policies are out there and that they work. It’s past time for North Carolina lawmakers to step up to the plate and support policies that meet the needs of today’s families.
Beth Messersmith is a Durham mom of two and the NC Campaign Director for MomsRising.org.