The call for universal paid leave

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The number of Americans who filed new unemployment claims last week fell below 400,000 for the first time since the pandemic started.

While that is encouraging, other data shows a disturbing trend: women who’ve dropped out of the workforce. According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than two million women in the U.S. have left the workforce since the pandemic started.

Public health experts blame some of that on the lack of universal paid leave. A leading health organization is pushing to change that.

Universal paid family leave from work is known the world over, but it’s not very well known in the U.S.

“The United States is one of the only high income countries that doesn’t have universal paid leave and in reality every worker in the United States at some point in their life is going to have to take time off from work,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Policy Vice President Avenel Joseph said.

Only nine states and Washington D.C. have universal paid leave laws. Pennsylvania is not among them.

“I know women who’ve had to go back to the workplace two weeks after giving birth and that’s just egregious. We shouldn’t have that sort of situation,” Joseph said.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says paid family leave is credited with reducing infant mortality, increasing overall child development and improving mental health for mothers. It also helps women stay in the workforce.

“Juggling being a working woman and a mom, you know, it’s definitely a difficult task for a lot of females,” PA CareerLink Luzerne/Schuylkill Counties Business Services Manager Tracy Kleban said.

PA Career Link conducted a survey to see what would drive unemployed workers back to jobs. Among the key findings? A clamoring for flexible scheduling and more opportunities to work from home; benefits which could help reverse the staggering numbers of unemployed women.

“And I think this is a really great opportunity for people to have those difficult conversations around their executive board room tables of what can we do to be a really great employer,” Kleban said.

In the meantime, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will continue its push for universal paid leave to reverse an unemployment trend that’s disproportinately impacted women during the pandemic, especially women of color and women with young children.

“Paid leave is one of the solutions that can help us get to health equity by allowing people to stay in the workforce and still be able to balance their personal health and family needs,” Joseph said.

PA Careerlink Luzerne/Schuylkill Counties has made its COVID-19 job seeker survey available to anyone in both English and Spanish.

During the pandemic, Congress approved temporary tax credits to encourage states and employers to offer paid leave, but those credits expire at the end of summer.

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