Paid leave exclusion projected to cost Florida economy billions

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — This week, advocates for universal paid leave sighed with frustration as their hopes of getting a plan passed into law were dashed again.

As one of the most popular policy proposals in the United States, paid leave was originally meant to be a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan. It would’ve offered every employee in the country 12 weeks per year that could be used to care for sick or dying family members, recover from injuries or tend to newborn babies.

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All three of the most recent presidents – Biden, Donald Trump and Barack Obama – have pitched various iterations of paid leave or included it in a budget proposal, with Biden’s by far the closest to being enacted.

However, as Senate Democrats wrangled over his signature agenda, the $225 billion proposal was axed to help cut the broader Plan down from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion to win the votes of moderates.

“I’m very surprised,” National Partnership for Women and Families President Debra Ness said.

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Ness’ organization estimated that 63% of Florida workers were unable to take unpaid leave from their jobs either because they didn’t qualify for it or couldn’t afford it, including 220,000 new mothers in 2020.

The lack of paid leave in the U.S., one of just a handful of countries that don’t mandate it, particularly hurts women and workers of color. Both demographics are more likely to hold front-line jobs where paid leave isn’t a standard benefit.

“Everybody at some point in their lives gets sick, or needs to take care of somebody who’s sick, or has an emergency situation in their family that needs to be dealt with,” she explained. “They need time away from work.”

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The partnership estimates that paid leave would add $500 billion to the U.S. economy through more women participating in the workforce and advancing their careers. Florida would receive a significant portion of that as it contains more than 7% of the nation’s population.

While some states mandate paid leave on their own, Florida did the opposite. In 2013, activists in Orange County forced a ballot initiative that would’ve mandated paid leave at all businesses in the county. However, Tallahassee Republicans blocked it at the urging of large corporations.

Ness said some lawmakers were fighting to get paid leave back into Biden’s Plan. Even if they were unsuccessful, she said the issue wouldn’t go away.

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“As our population is getting older, there are fewer and fewer family caregivers per older person,” she said. “It is a sign of how little we value the work that is done mostly by women and traditionally by people of color.”

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