Although the election has left many Americans frustrated this week, there are some glimmers of hope: voters in Colorado and Oregon passed measures to establish paid parental leave and free preschool in some areas.
The United States has long lagged behind other developmental countries in the supports it offers new parents and young families, so it’s great to see signs of progress, even on a local level. In addition to the two measures that passed on Tuesday, local governments and even private companies are also stepping up to make parental leave more accessible. Here’s the latest.
Colorado Voters Approve Paid Family Leave
In Colorado, 57% of voters showed their support for establishing a paid family leave system in the state. The new measure won’t just help new parents — it will also be available to people who need to take time off work to care for sick family members, according to The Colorado Sun.
Residents won’t be able to take advantage immediately — they’ll need to wait until 2024 to take withdrawals from the fund. The leave program will be funded in a similar way to unemployment: employers and employees will both pay 0.45% of the employee’s wages into the fund. After earning $2,500 from an employer, people can tap into the fund, getting up to $1,100 per week for 12 weeks.
State Sen. Faith Winter, a Democrat, first introduced paid family leave legislation in 2015, but made little progress. She was glad to turn the issue over to voters, since she believed that most people understand the need for paid leave.
“We’ve always had stories of moms going back to work within two weeks of giving birth and cancer patients skipping chemotherapy to keep their jobs,” she said. “I am so proud that Colorado is the first state to do this on the ballot and it shows how incredibly popular and needed this program was.”
Portland, Oregon Voters Establish Free Preschool
Residents in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes the state’s largest city of Portland, voted in favor of establishing a universal preschool program that will be available to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the county.
More than 64% of voters were in favor of the measure, which will be funded by a 1.5% tax increase on individuals making more than $125,000 a year, according to Oregon Live. In addition to making preschool more widely available, the measure guarantees that staff working in the preschools are paid at least $18 — a fair, living wage for a career that’s often underpaid.
“What we’re doing here in Multnomah County is really transformational in how we’re approaching preschool,” county Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson told Vox. “We can be a model for other jurisdictions doing this. I’m really excited about this being a national move to universal preschool.”
Elsewhere, Signs Of Progress
Oregon and Colorado — both of which were leaders in the national movement to legalize cannabis — aren’t the only areas where there are signs of progress for kids and families.
In Kentucky, two state lawmakers — a Democrat and a Republican — have proposed paid family leave for all state employees. Rep. Josie Raymond, the Democrat who proposed the legislation, said it was based on her experience with both paid and unpaid leave.
“I came to this issue because I had three babies at three employers and I got one paid leave, and I knew in that situation I was calmer, I was more secure, I was more loyal to the employer,” she said.
Private employers are also expanding their leave policies. Lego announced on November 3 that all employees will have access to 26 weeks of paid parental leave. The company also announced caregiver leave, although the details of the programs remain to be seen.
Finally, unions at Michigan State University won the right to parental leave, which will be implemented in phases beginning next year.
“This is something we’d had on the bargaining table for the last 12 rounds,” said Martin McDonough, president of one of the unions on campus. “It’s more of a work-life balance with our members. It’s more of a family issue, and we have a lot of young families in our membership. When we surveyed our membership, this was the number one thing they wanted us to talk about at the bargaining table.”
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