I was fortunate when most parents are not
About six years ago, my life took a series of big changes that would be familiar to many families in America. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and we were getting ready for all the things that having a newborn entails: getting our house ready, learning all about cribs, car seats, diapers, and baby formula, visiting doctors to track the pregnancy, looking for a new pediatrician and daycare, and all the usual terrors faced by new parents.
At the same time, I was also in the middle of a career change, looking for new job opportunities. This created some unexpected challenges to our parenthood plans, as changing jobs would leave me ineligible for family leave - which is tantamount to a penalty for trying to advance your career. Our situation, however, was not different from most of Connecticut workers, as most of us do not qualify for family leave. We were uneasy but confident. We had planned ahead. We had some savings. We were going to be fine.
My wife’s pregnancy, however, proved to be more difficult than we expected, and we suddenly found ourselves in a more difficult position than what we thought we would be. My wife needed a higher level of care that we expected, so I was going to need to take time off from work. She also was ineligible for medical leave, paid or unpaid, so we were suddenly faced with the distressing possibility of a complex pregnancy, mounting medical bills, and not only being unable to access care, but also unable to be there for my wife and our daughter when they needed me the most.
Thankfully, I had the immense luck to find a job at national organization which provides paid family leave to its employees. I was able to take time off work to be with my wife and daughter. It enabled us to turn what it would have been a difficult, stressful time into something that was still challenging but did not have the cloud of potential financial ruin over it.
I was fortunate when most parents are not. Only 17 percent of Connecticut residents work for an employer that offers paid leave.
And that’s the problem. Providing a paid family and medical leave insurance program should NOT be left up to the generosity of an employer to determine which employees deserve it, and/or the level of coverage they should get. If you’re a person of color, a low income earner, or among the working poor, it’s pretty certain you don’t or won’t have access to paid leave through an employer.
One thing is certain: during the course of our lives, sooner or later, everyone will face one of these situations. We will get old, we will have a child, we will fall ill, we will need to take care of a relative. Not having access to paid family leave means that we often cannot afford to take time off work to take care of an ailing relative, a newborn child, or even of ourselves — to the point that a recent American Cancer Society poll found that many patients selected less effective treatment options simply because they could take unpaid time to recover .
That is why it is critical that Connecticut implements a real and comprehensive paid leave program in Connecticut that is publicly administered, rooted in equity, and prioritizes the needs of middle class and working poor residents. Whether you’re White, Black or Brown, we all want the same things for our families.
But for the vast majority of us, jobs all too often have to come before our families. Paid family leave should not be some sort of luxury employee benefit that only a lucky few can afford. All workers should be able to take paid leave when life happens, not just wealthy folks.
It is time that lawmakers pass a comprehensive paid family leave law so that families don’t face financial ruin when facing illness or a family emergency. All of our neighboring states have passed it. Doing it here would make our state more competitive, and more importantly,would make a difference for thousands of children, parents, caregivers, and family members all across Connecticut.
Carlos Moreno is the Deputy Director of Connecticut Working Families and a resident of Cornwall Bridge.