Boston. Austin. San Francisco. Seattle. St. Paul. Washington, DC.
You’ll find them on just about every list of “best cities for Millennials,” thanks to their nightlife, housing, jobs and demographics. But those lists omit one key element that makes these cities great for young people: paid parental leave.
Each of these cities offers – or, in the case of Boston, is making moves to offer – paid maternity leave and paternity leave for city employees.
And why are they doing it? For the same reasons leading businesses have begun offering the benefit – to bolster their employer brands. When only 13 percent of American workers have access to employer-provided paid leave, maternity and paternity leave plans become a key asset in attracting and retaining the best employees.
“We know the availability of paid parental leave will be a competitive advantage for the city to recruit talented, highly skilled employees and help us retain the employees we have,” wrote Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Councilwoman Michelle Wu in an op-ed announcing the proposal. “More satisfied and engaged workers are more productive workers. … In balancing work and family commitments, employees feel greater fulfillment in both areas of life, boosting morale and productivity.”
Same story in St. Paul, where The Star-Tribune reported Mayor Chris Coleman said “the city needs to do all it can to compete for the best workers as more Baby Boomers retire in coming years.”
And in Seattle, where The Post-Intelligencer reported that by offering paid parental leave, “the City is encouraging a stable workforce in which employees are less likely to leave.”
“Primed for a National Debate”
The United States is one of three countries that does not provide paid maternity leave. The other two are Oman and Papua New Guinea. But strengthening working families has been a recurring theme throughout the national narrative this year, leading to the suggestion by U.S. News and World Report that “Paid Family Leave is Primed for a National Debate.”
It began with President Obama’s announcement of plans to broaden access to sick days and paid leave, then came U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s move to reintroduce the FAMILY Act, which would provide paid family leave to American workers. And now Boston is considering an ordinance that would require the city to offer six weeks of paid parental leave to mothers and fathers.
The movement is in recognition of the seismic shift in the makeup of American families – and the American workforce – over the past several decades.
Women today make up about half of the workforce and, in two-thirds of American families, all parents work. As women take on more of the breadwinner role – about 40 percent of primary breadwinners are women – men are increasingly sharing in caregiving responsibilities.
But our systems haven’t caught up to these changing workplace and family dynamics. As Labor Secretary Tom Perez said last year, “We live in a Modern Family society, but our policies are stuck in Leave It To Beaver mentality.”
Three states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – have statewide paid family and medical leave policies, while several other states have proposals in place. But, absent federal policy – like the FAMILY Act – it falls largely to employers to support our working moms and dads through paid leave.
Many leading employers have found providing paid leave and other family-friendly programs lead to reduced absenteeism and turnover, while also helping to attract the best workers.
“When we increased paid maternity leave at Google from 12 to 18 weeks, we discovered it wasn’t just good for mothers, it was good for business, doubling our retention rate amongst mothers,” said YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in a press release announcing her support for the FAMILY Act.
In a white paper presented by the Families and Work Institute and Care.com, Ryan, LLC, a Texas-based tax advisory firm with 1,300 US employees, reported paid leave helped the company cut its turnover rate in half.
Employers who rank on Best Places to Work lists, which are filled with enterprises that offer generous parental leave policies and family-friendly work perks, regularly provide more than two-times the stock market returns and experience 65 percent less turnover than their peers.
And now cities are following suit, offering paid parental leave as a way to find and keep talented employees while strengthening working families and improving gender parity.
“Evidence shows that mothers are more likely to return to their jobs and stay in the workforce if they are afforded paid leave,” Walsh and Wu wrote. “With the understanding that paid parental leave helps to retain women in the workforce, we know it will narrow the wage gap for women in our city. We are proud to support and introduce policies that advance women in the workplace and all aspects of city life.”
Boston’s proposal has been assigned to the city’s Government Operations Committee for a hearing. Should it win approval, Boston would join a small but growing group of cities and counties offering paid family leave for municipal employees. According to the National Partnership of Women and Families, that list includes:
- San Francisco
- Sacramento County, Calif.
- Fairfax County, Va
- Washington, DC
- Cook County, Ill
- St. Petersburg, Fla.
- St. Paul, Minn.
- Brooklyn Park, Minn.
As The Globe pointed out, Boston’s paid parental leave measure would only provide paid leave to a small number of city employees . The program would apply only to nonunion employees (initially anyway), and about 90 percent of the city’s employees belong to a union. But paid leave could certainly be a part of the next round of union negotiations, making the perk available to all of the city’s employees.
Until then, though, the move toward paid leave is good for the working families for whom this benefit would apply, and it’s good for the City of Boston’s employer brand.
Tell Us: What do you think of paid leave getting political attention?