Women in Ohio earn just 78 cents, on average, for every dollar their male counterparts take home. To raise awareness of this continuing pay disparity, April 12 has been designated “Equal Pay Day,” a symbolic recognition of the day when the average woman catches up to what the average male earned in 2015. This year on Equal Pay Day, we are highlighting one workplace policy that could help to close the gap between men and women: paid parental leave.
Every year, thousands of Ohioans face the tough choice between earning a paycheck and caring for a new child. The U.S. holds the dubious distinction of being the only industrialized nation where new parents are not guaranteed paid time off after a birth or adoption. And just 13 percent of U.S. workers receive any form of paid family leave through their employers. Unfortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, groundbreaking in its time, only guarantees a job will be there when a worker returns, not a paycheck while they are out. Clearly, twenty-first century policies are necessary to meet the needs of twenty-first century families.
After the birth or adoption of a child, too many new parents, particularly new mothers, are left with several terrible options: go back to work too soon after having a child, lose critical income by taking leave without pay, or exit the workforce temporarily. The choices are worse for low-income women and women of color. Just four percent of low-wage workers — who are more likely to be black or Latino, and for whom the pay gap between women and men is even larger — have access to paid family leave, compared to 22 percent of high wage-earners.
There is a direct connection between paid leave policies and equal pay. Because so few have access to paid leave policies, women in the U.S. are more likely to leave employment after childbirth, reducing their earnings compared to their male counterparts. And women with employment gaps are less likely to be considered for more senior positions which, in turn, further increases pay gaps between them and men in similar positions.
Paid Parental Leave also leads to a more equitable division of labor at home, which can in turn reduce gender pay disparities. Research shows that when even brief periods of paid leave are extended to fathers, men are more likely to be involved in childcare and domestic responsibilities months and years later. Further, when dad takes on some of the responsibility for caring for a new child, it gives mom the opportunity to return to work faster and advance in her career.
Recently introduced Ohio House Bill 511 would establish a paid family leave insurance program allowing up to 12 weeks of leave with pay. If enacted, Ohio would be the fourth state to adopt a statewide policy. The legislation would not only ensure that parents could bond and care for their newborn without giving up a paycheck or their job, but would also allow working Ohioans to address their own or a family member’s serious health condition. HB 511 is a step in the right direction for Ohio families and will create a workplace that is more conducive to family life and begin to reduce the gender pay gap.