Few social policies seem to do as much universal good as paid paternity leave: Study after study has shown that when a father plays an active role in a child’s early years, he or she will end up healthier, achieve greater academic success, and even make more money. Everybody wins.
Unfortunately, our country’s paid family leave policies do little to support dads. In fact, just yesterday, the Council on Contemporary Families released a report revealing that, compared to parents in other Western countries, American parents are miserable. The reason, they determined? That’s right—poor social support.
So in honor of Father’s Day, we thought we’d explore the question—which presidential candidate is best for dads, when it comes to promising generous paternity leave policies? Which candidate could help boost the happiness levels of the millions of hardworking men out there?
I’ll let you take a guess.
While only one remaining frontrunner is a dad himself—Republican nominee Donald Trump—the former reality TV star has expressed reluctance to expand the length of guaranteed paternity leave. When asked about the issue in a recent Fox News interview, Trump could only reply, “You have to keep our country competitive, so you have to be careful of it.”
While, to be sure, Trump’s stance reflects that of many Republicans, given all of the research showing the benefits of paid parental leave, the candidate might not realize that this reluctance isn’t setting the country up to be competitive at all. Trump may be all about being a “winner” and being “strong” and, of course, making America “Great Again,” but his stance on paid leave might very well result in families emerging as the losers he so despises.
By contrast, presumptive Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made paid leave an essential part of her platform, campaigning on a guarantee of 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers, regardless of gender. Clinton’s proposal would allow for workers to earn a minimum of two-thirds their regular salary while exercising this leave, allowing them to continue financially supporting their families. Her plan is to fund this initiative through taxes on the country's highest-earning taxpayers.
A recent policy brief issued by the Department of Labor showed that while 9 out of 10 fathers in the U.S. take some time off of work for the birth or adoption of a child, 70% of these fathers are allotted ten days or less. A staggering 88% of workers have no access to paid leave at all, and those fathers who do are typically offered less time off for paternity leave than women are for maternity leave. This creates a situation that unjustly penalizes both two-dad families and any family in which a father wishes to have an active role in his child’s life. Only three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—provide paid family leave to both mothers and fathers on an equal basis.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor notes that families with fathers who take more leave also share chores and childcare more equally between mothers and fathers. So paid leave and equitable paternity leave policies not only give dads the time to be parents, but cause a trickle down effect of creating greater gender equity. Which is why Republicans’ reluctance to jump on the paid leave boat is pretty shocking.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez himself to get his take on the outlook for dads in this country—especially given the current political landscape. The long-time civil rights attorney has been a vocal advocate for better paid leave policies. In fact, under his leadership, the Department of Labor has even started publishing letters sent to Perez from fathers describing why better paid leave policies for men like them would be a tremendous help for their families.
Perez himself is a prime example of a dad who relishes the opportunity to spend as much time as possible with his three children. He remarked how, in the “Modern Family universe” of today, “we have more moms working and we have more dads who are heavily involved in every aspect of child-rearing. And I was proud to be one of those—we have three kids and when our kids were in preschool, they were in a co-op school and you had to volunteer and my wife and I fought over the opportunity to volunteer.”
But, Perez said, “We have gotten nothing but opposition from Republican leadership on paid leave” since he and Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House advisor, kicked off the “Lead on Leave” campaign following President Obama’s Summit on Working Families in the fall of 2014.
“And what is unfortunate about that is that we are the only industrialized nation on the planet that doesn’t have some form of paid leave and we are the only industrialized nation on the planet that makes it where paid leave is a partisan issue.”
Perez pointed to Australia as an example where the “conservative ruling party got into power in part because of a campaign promise in which it vowed to expand paid leave and fund it by a tax on the 2500 or so largest companies in Australia. And that’s the conservative ruling party.”
But conservatives in the U.S.? They’re a different story.
This lack of a national paid leave program, said Perez, is not just hurting dads, but moms, kids, businesses and—yes—our global competitiveness. “Affordable childcare and paid leave should be two of the linchpins of the 21st century social compact and because of the relentless opposition of Republicans, it is not. That is a fact. That is a very frustrating fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless.”
Still, despite the current political climate, he’s confident that we’ll see paid leave policies expand in the very near future.
“Paid leave on the federal level in this country is a ‘when’ question. It’s not an ‘if’ question,” said Perez. “And the ‘when’ will be a factor of when we get more businesses to step to the plate. … when we get more dads and moms to step to the plate and make the economic argument, the family values argument, the public health argument.”
Which is why if Republicans really are all about family values, Perez told me they’ll get down with paid paternity leave. “The most important family value is the value of time spent with your children. I always thought that family values are at the core of a lot of what my Republican friends advocate for.”
So you if you’re fortunate enough to have a father in your life this Sunday, ask him how he feels about paid leave for men. And if he doesn’t have a strong opinion on the subject, tell him it’s time to get one. That is, before he pulls the lever on November 8th.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.