30 years after passing the Family and Medical Leave Act, the U.S. must do more to secure paid leave for all

February 6, 2023, 1:16 PM UTC
Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton walk into the East Room for an event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act at the White House on Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Unemployment hit a low in January, a law keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers was overturned, and there’s much further to go in the fight for paid leave on the FMLA’s anniversary.

– Anniversary for action. It’s well established that the United States is the wealthiest country in the world without paid family leave. Advocates for paid family leave are still fighting to remove that unfortunate title, after attempts by the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats to enact long-fought-for paid leave policies stalled.

This week, in the meantime, advocates for family leave are taking a moment to acknowledge what the United States does have: the Family and Medical Leave Act. The law marked its 30th anniversary on Sunday. In the three decades since its passage, the FMLA has guaranteed Americans 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from illness, care for a family member, or spend time with a new child without the threat of losing their job.

An analysis by the National Partnership for Women and Families found that the FMLA has been used 460 million times since it was signed into law. More than half of those instances were for a worker who was on leave because of their own health. About 20% were for a family’s new child, whether that is after giving birth or welcoming an adopted or foster child.

The FMLA has many gaps. Forty-four percent of workers aren’t eligible because they either work for small employers who are exempt from the law or because they haven’t been at their jobs long enough to qualify, according to the National Partnership. Millions more don’t take the leave the FMLA offers because it is unpaid.

Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton walk into the East Room for an event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act at the White House on Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris used the anniversary to revive their administration’s efforts on paid leave. Biden announced a commitment to “passing a national program of paid leave for all.” He and Harris were joined by former President Bill Clinton, whose administration enacted the FMLA. Clinton acknowledged the legislation’s shortcomings. “There’s still a lot of problems that cannot be solved without some form of paid leave,” the former president said.

The FMLA marked a sea change 30 years ago when it was passed. But the U.S. has only fallen further behind on this issue in the decades since. While acknowledging what the law has accomplished, this anniversary is an opportunity to imagine a country 30 years from now that offers working families so much more.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Kinsey Crowley. Subscribe here.


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