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Syracuse Post-Standard: Colleen Deacon: Democrats will fight for paid family leave

July 22, 2016

Syracuse Post-Standard: Colleen Deacon: Democrats will fight for paid family leave

by Colleen Deacon

After graduating from college, I got pregnant. At the time, I had a job waiting tables — one that didn't come with access to health care, paid sick days, or maternity leave.

I'd worked my way through school with part-time jobs at a bakery, a grocery store and as a waitress, and had taken out student loans to cover the rest of the cost, and those loans were also coming due.

So I did the only thing I could think of: I worked as hard as I could and stayed at my job for as long as I could, leaving just a few days before my son was born.

After becoming pregnant, I signed up for Medicaid, and after giving birth to my son, signed up for food stamps to keep both of us healthy.

My story isn't unique—and I knew I was fortunate to be able to get access to the help I so desperately needed.

Eventually, when I started my career and got a job that did come with health care and paid sick days, I knew I was fortunate to have that too.

As most working families will tell you, it doesn't take much to put their basic economic security at risk.
The truth is that even though everyone gets sick at one time or another, 40 percent of private-sector workers and a staggering 81 percent of low-wage earners don't have access to paid sick days, leaving far too many working parents with an impossible choice between staying home to care for their sick child or working the hours it takes to feed them.

As most working families will tell you, it doesn't take much to put their basic economic security at risk. One study found it only takes 3.5 days of unpaid leave before a family might be unable to buy a month's worth of groceries.

Many workers don't even have the option of taking unpaid sick leave. In fact, a full 23 percent of adults in this country say they've either been fired or had their employer threaten to fire them because they took time off work to care for a sick family member or because they got sick themselves.

Compounding the problem, women in the U.S. — who are primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of households with kids younger than 18 — are still being paid just 79 cents for every dollar made by a man.

Sixty-three percent of those breadwinning moms are single moms like me — and if every single one of us got paid as much as a man makes for doing the exact same job, the poverty rate for our families could be cut almost in half (from 28.7 to 15.0 percent).

That so many families are facing this reality is unacceptable — especially at a time when Americans are working harder than ever to make ends meet.

Today, I meet families facing challenges similar to the challenges I faced every single day. We've had to fight to make our voices heard. But the good news is that the Democratic Party has been listening.

This year, we're taking action with a platform that calls for a raise in the minimum wage and guaranteed paid medical and family leave for all workers.

These are bold proposals that will ensure our economy works for everyone — not just those at the top.

As we follow the conventions, one thing is clear: The contrast between my values as a Democrat and the values of Rep. John Katko and his Republican Party — led by a man who's spent his life getting rich at everybody else's expense — couldn't be clearer, and the stakes for working families in this election couldn't get any higher.

This is our moment to come together, to make our voices heard, and to focus all of our efforts on winning in November to ensure progress for working families for generations to come.