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Opinion: City of Detroit should implement paid parental leave

Scott Benson

Too often, new mothers are forced to return to work within four weeks — or less — of  delivering their babies due to lack of financial resources. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that 16% of new mothers took only one to four weeks off work after giving birth, and at least 33% took no formal time off at all, returning to work immediately.

This wrong can be easily righted by implementing a paid maternity/paternity leave, which is why I have been working with the Detroit Human Resources Department to implement such a policy.  

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that 16% of new mothers took only one to four weeks off work after giving birth, and at least 33% took no formal time off at all, returning to work immediately, Benson reports.

In addition, I will be requesting support from my colleagues to place funding in the city’s 2021 budget with the goal of offering this benefit to all Detroit City employees beginning on July 1.

Giving new parents time with their children improves critical health metrics for positive health outcomes, such as birth weight and mortality. These positive outcomes are especially beneficial to mothers who earn low wages and often don’t have the financial ability to take an unpaid leave.

Besides improving the health outcomes for children in Detroit, where infant mortality is comparable to developing countries, this policy will make us more competitive as a city and will help us attract regional talent.

On Dec. 20, a monumental policy which gives more than 2.1 million federal government employees paid parental leave for the first time, became law. This law includes 12 weeks of paid parental leave for employees who give birth, adopt or foster a child. 

Up until this point, the U.S. was the sole industrialized nation in the world that refused to adopt a policy of parental leave for its federal employees.

Even with the law in place that will be effective Oct. 20, it still leaves about 80% of U.S. workers in the private sector with no access to paid family leave. Only 9% of wage earners in the bottom 25% have access to paid family leave, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. That compares to 30% of wage earners in the top 25%.

It means that millions of retail workers, public school teachers, bus drivers, construction workers, and restaurant employees don’t get paychecks when they take time off to care for a new child. 

As many other cities in the nation work to implement their own maternity leave policies, the city of Detroit should join the ranks and offer this benefit to our estimated 9,000 employees.

A proposed maternity leave policy would pay employees 100% of their salaries for six weeks during a maternity or paternity leave for Detroit employees. This policy would bring Detroit in line with thousands of forward-thinking, competitive cities and private sector companies across the country.

Here in Detroit, larger employers such as DTE and Quicken Loans offer these benefits.

One argument against the policy is the additional cost to municipalities and companies. The new measure is expected to cost the federal government about $3.3 billion over five to 10 years. In Detroit, the cost will be approximately $2 million with an annual increase of 2%. Only an estimated 2% of the city’s employees would take advantage of the paid leave.

The city of Detroit should offer paid maternity leave because it’s the right thing to do to support our employees.

Scott Benson is a Detroit city councilman representing the 3rd District. He's also a chairman of City Council’s Public Health and Safety Standing Committee.