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Valerie Jarrett: "Why We Think Paid Leave Is a Worker's Right, Not a Privilege"

Valerie Jarrett takes to LinkedIn to break the news on the President's latest actions to help working parents.

Ed. note: Yesterday, Valerie Jarrett wrote the following post on LinkedIn, breaking the news on the actions the President took today to help working parents. See the original post here.

Anyone who has ever faced the challenge of raising or supporting a family, while holding down a job, has faced tough choices along the way, and likely felt stretched between the financial and personal needs of their family.

How many working parents know that sinking feeling from sending their child off to school with a fever? How many Americans have to show up to work when battling an illness even when they know they won’t be at their best, it will lengthen their recovery time, and they may likely spread their sickness to others? And how many moms and dads have been denied the ability to bond with their newborn, or to care for an aging parent, all because they could not afford to miss work? These are real, significant moments in life that nearly everyone faces at some point. The last thing we should do is add guilt, fear, and financial hardship on working parents as they try to do what’s right – while keeping their job.

Tomorrow, President Obama will announce several initiatives that will spur action and move us toward our goal of fully supporting and empowering working parents in both their roles as workers and parents.

We know that states and cities are leading the way in this fight to pass laws to protect their workers. We’ll work to support these states and cities in their efforts to bring paid leave and sick days to all working families, and the President is continuing his push to bring similar flexibility to federal workers.

So on Thursday, President Obama will call on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would allow millions of working Americans to earn up to seven days a year of paid sick time — and call on states and cities to pass similar laws. The President will outline a new plan to help states create paid leave programs, and provide new funding through the Department of Labor for feasibility studies that will help other states and municipalities figure out the best way to implement programs of their own. And the President will sign a Presidential Memorandum that will ensure federal employees have access to at least 6 weeks of paid sick leave when a new child arrives and propose that Congress offer 6 weeks of paid administrative leave as well.

These steps build on the progress made when, this past June, President Obama convened the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families, bringing together business leaders, educators, researchers, advocates, members of Congress, state and local government representatives, and American workers to have a real, honest discussion about how we can make our workplaces work better for American families. But the conversation we had that day was only the beginning. It has carried on in the months since then around the country and the President has continued to take action to make progress for families.

We know that today, 43 million private sector workers in the U.S. are without any form of paid sick leave. Only three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave. The United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.

The truth is, the success and productivity of our workers is inextricably tied to their ability to care for their families and maintain a stable life at home. More and more employers are coming to understand this. And voters get it too—from Massachusetts to Oakland, they have been showing their overwhelming bipartisan support for policies allowing workers to earn paid sick days.

At a time when all parents are working in more than 60 percent of households with children (up from just 40 percent in 1965), and 63 percent of women with children under the age of 5 participate in the labor force (compared with 31 percent in the early 1970s), one fact is resoundingly clear: The fundamental structure of our workplaces has simply not kept pace with the changing American family.

Fixing that won't just make life better for millions of American families. It will ultimately improve the financial bottom lines of the companies that choose to step up and make a change on their own – which is precisely why this news is breaking first on LinkedIn.

This is the world's largest online audience of professionals. And if you're an employer, the folks who are coming to your company's pages will be looking to see if you offer precisely these sorts of policies on your books. These are the policies that will attract the best new talent. They are the policies that will make the employees you hire more productive — and encourage them to stay longer. Keep in mind that nearly one in two working parents has turned down a job because it would not work for their family. Don’t let your job be one of those.

This is the very first place we're breaking this news because you're in the best position to drive change.

The President and his Administration have engaged workers and employers around the country in roundtable conversations about how to build 21st century workplaces that meet the needs of the 21st century workforce. And the President has received thousands of letters from people around the country sharing why these issues are so personal for them.

He heard not long ago from a mother of two in Maryland. She was working full-time while raising a family, which she said felt too often like “a no-win situation." She told us that she hopes that when her daughters are grown, "times will be different and flexibility will be the standard so that they don't have to choose between caring for their sick child or dying parent, and their job."

Let’s make that happen now.

Because we can't say we stand for family values when so many women in this country have to jeopardize their financial security just to take a few weeks off of work after giving birth.

We can't say we're for middle-class stability when a man has to sacrifice his economic security to care for his ailing mother.

If you’re an employer, ask yourself what you’re doing for your workers on paid sick days and paid leave. If you’re looking for a job, ask yourself what you want out of your employer.

The President intends to ensure that the federal government is a model employer. We'll have the most-skilled and productive workforce possible as a result.