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opinion | Marty Walsh and Michelle Wu

Paid parental leave is a must for working families

On Wednesday, the Boston City Council will consider an ordinance providing paid parental leave. Pictured: Inside City Hall.
On Wednesday, the Boston City Council will consider an ordinance providing paid parental leave. Pictured: Inside City Hall.(John Tlumacki/Globe staff/file 2014)

In conversations with families across Boston, too often we hear the incredible joy of raising children tempered by frustration and anxiety around workplace policies that are not working. A pregnant employee should not have to worry about choosing between maintaining a career and becoming a mother. A new father should not feel that he has a lesser role to play as a parent because he can’t spare all his sick days to care for a newborn. Paid parental leave is crucial for working families.

The United States is one of only three industrialized nations that does not offer paid family leave. Although discussion of family-friendly policies is featured prominently in national political discourse, and most Americans favor family-friendly workplaces by wide margin, there has been no substantive action to address the issue in Congress. For the City of Boston, supporting working families cannot wait.

On Wednesday, the Boston City Council will consider an ordinance providing paid parental leave, joining just a handful of other cities and states. If passed, the ordinance would guarantee city employees up to six weeks of paid leave during the year after the birth or adoption of their child. The benefit extends to women, men, and same-sex couples, with the understanding that parental involvement in early childhood is essential to children’s development.

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The makeup of the American family has changed dramatically in the last half century. Both parents are working in more than 60 percent of households — up from 40 percent in 1965. The number of working women with children under the age of five has doubled since the 1970s. Yet workforce policies have not kept pace with changing American families. For too many workers in Boston, unpaid leave is unaffordable.

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 currently have. More satisfied and engaged workers are more productive workers. Employers in California found that the state’s paid parental leave had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on both productivity (89 percent of employers) and profitability and performance (91 percent). In balancing work and family commitments, employees feel greater fulfillment in both areas of their life, boosting morale and productivity. Evidence shows that mothers are more likely to return to their jobs and stay in the workforce if they are afforded paid leave. 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.

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Our hope is that we will not be alone in offering this important benefit to working families in Boston. Our vision for Boston is one in which every resident has equal opportunity for income mobility and equality. Offering paid leave is a big part of that equation. Many Boston businesses strive to support employees by offering some version of paid parental leave, but we need a cultural shift — wherein workers feel secure in taking advantage of what is offered. We need all employers to join us in creating workplaces conducive to working families.

Marty Walsh is the mayor of Boston. Michelle Wu is a Boston city councilor.

Related:

Joanna Weiss: At Oscars, wage equality gets its 15 minutes of fame

Jodi Beggs: ‘Equal pay for equal work’ isn’t so simple

Jeff Jacoby: Number of two-parent families drops, and economic inequality grows

Jake Murray: A bind for working families