This Heart-Wrenching New Doc Nails What The U.S. Gets Wrong About Paid Family Leave

© Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

mom and baby

© Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

May 20, 2024 at 3:50AM UTC
Raise your hand if you’d say you consider your family a priority. Now, raise your hand if it feels like your employer makes it easy for your family to be a priority.
If you only raised your hand the first time, you’re in the majority. While most American parents agree that spending time with their kids — particularly when they’re young — is important, most American parents also struggle with maternity leave and paternity leave policies that often don’t offer much paid time off.
In fact, in 2016, just 14 percent of private sector workers in the U.S. said they were getting paid family leave through their job, and less than 40 percent said they were offered personal medical leave through an employer-provided temporary disability program.
For new mothers, this reality can be particularly grim. Nearly one quarter of moms go back to work within just two weeks of having a baby because they simply can’t afford not to. This is, in part, why the website Fairygodboss was built — to help job seekers get the inside scoop on companies’ parental leave policies and general workplace culture.
Zero Weeks,” a new documentary by award-winning director Ky Dickens, takes a deeper look at paid leave and lays out the case for having guaranteed paid leave for every American worker.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who, with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has sponsored the FAMILY Act, explains why having a more generous paid leave policy makes good business sense: “The U.S. economy loses billions of dollars every year because we do not have paid family leave. Small businesses and entrepreneurs, the engine of our nation’s economy and drivers of innovation, cannot compete with the workplace benefits of larger companies,” she explains in a statement.
“Freelancers and microbusinesses simply do not have the infrastructure to support workers who have caregiving responsibilities."
Originally introduced in 2013, the FAMILY Act would provide a self-sustaining family insurance program for all workers, regardless of their age, marital status, sex, or size of their employer.
In addition to exploring paid leave from a financial and global perspective, "Zero Weeks" weaves together stories and interviews from activists, policy makers, researchers and personal narratives to highlight why paid leave is important from an emotional and medical perspective.
The film marks the fourth documentary from Dickens, who was inspired to create a film about paid leave after facing financial depletion, emotional turmoil and guilt of having “not enough time” due to a lack of paid leave after the birth of her first child.
“All of my films were birthed from necessity,” says Dickens. “Following the birth of my daughter, I was faced with the experience of inadequate maternity leave, which left me in emotional and financial distress. That experience became a gateway for awareness that millions of men and women face the same situation every year. The paid leave crisis does not only affect new parents, but anyone who has struggled with a personal injury or life-threatening illness, or cared for a sick spouse or aging parent.”

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