Biden just abandoned his pledge to American families by nixing paid leave. It's still a 'truly historic' agenda but leaves the US with 'so much left to do.'

Biden just abandoned his pledge to American families by nixing paid leave. It's still a 'truly historic' agenda but leaves the US with 'so much left to do.'
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden kisses a baby's hand during a campaign event Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Dubuque, Iowa. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
  • On Thursday, the White House released a framework for its social spending plan without paid family and medical leave.
  • Biden ran on it, and just 23% of the labor force has it, but the US is set to remain the only developed economy without paid leave.

The White House released a $1.75 trillion social spending framework on Thursday morning, outlining the proposals that have made it into the latest, whittled-down version of President Joe Biden's cornerstone economic package.

The framework includes $400 billion for universal preschool and funding to make childcare more affordable. However, one key provision is nowhere to be found: Paid family and medical leave.

"It is outrageous that we are here in the midst of a global pandemic - and shecession - with Senate leaders and the White House having put forward this preliminary legislative deal without paid family and medical leave," Molly Day, the executive director of advocacy group PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States, told Insider.

Currently, the US is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that does not have any paid leave on the books. One analysis from the University of Massachusetts found that enacting paid leave could boost the incomes of Americans by $28.5 billion annually; in California, which instituted a paid family leave policy in 2002, employment for new mothers went up as labor costs went down.

"Congress has really left behind millions of people in this country who are going to need time to care for themselves and for their loved ones," Laura Narefsky, the counsel on education and workplace justice at the National Women's Law Center, told Insider.


Even so, advocates say that the new proposed funding will still help bolster families - just not to the same extent it could have. Narefsky said it is still a "truly historic" investment in working families, although it also reflects that "this country has so much left to do."

"The childcare investments will make high quality affordable childcare available to many more families," Vicki Shabo, a paid leave expert at think tank New America, told Insider. "The investments in pre-K make high quality preschool available to more than 6 million children. The one additional year of the child tax credit creates more to build on with respect to making that permanent going forward."

But Shabo says the omission of paid leave means that people may not be able to take time to care for their children and loved ones in the case of family or medical emergencies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of March 2021, just 23% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave. (The BLS classification of "civilian worker" essentially refers to all workers except the uniformed military.)

Advocates say the fight isn't over

Advocates and politicians immediately began to push back following reports that paid leave was out of the package.


"I think there is a general understanding that this is a short-term setback, but certainly not the end of the road," Narefsky said. "There are advocates and there are lawmakers and there are working families who are fired up and who are really ready to hold our lawmakers accountable to enact this policy."

Day said advocates will fight until the bill is signed, and said "this deal has clearly come together based on opposition from one male senator - Senator Manchin."

While the current framework is the result of much back and forth between Democrats, Shabo said she thinks it's important to take a broader look at the current legislative situation - and at the fact that one party isn't not even discussing paid leave in Congress.

"The whole reason that we're in this reconciliation bill context, fighting for scarce dollars in the first place," she said, "is that Republicans have completely abdicated responsibility for being part of these discussions and trying to find solutions forward on economic and family policies."