Last summer, something amazing happened on Capitol Hill. There was an agreement between members of Congress from opposing parties. Astonishing! Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that there should be paid family leave. Now, before you get too excited, that’s about where the good feelings started and ended. While both parties agreed on the basic premise, they put forth wildly different proposals.
Paid family leave is the concept that employees should be granted paid time off from work to take care of family members who suffer from serious health issues, or to care for a newborn child. Currently, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), certain employees may take unpaid leave for 12 weeks and be guaranteed their job upon return. This leave is for serious health issues for an employee or their family member (spouse, parent or child), new child or facts surrounding the deployment of a service member. The problem with the current FMLA is that employees are not guaranteed income during their leave of absence from work.
So why should pay be included in our federal laws that govern family leave? First, only about 10 percent of employees are granted paid family leave from their employer. Furthermore, the employees whose employers offer paid leave are generally higher paid workers. In addition, only six states and the District of Columbia currently have a paid family leave policy. Secondly, not having a federal paid family leave policy causes financial hardship because employees are not receiving their regular income. Research demonstrates that a paid family leave policy with 2/3 wage replacement could reduce family economic insecurity by 81 percent.
While most people associate paid family leave with new parents, many people might be surprised to learn that this issue directly impacts seniors. For example, 18 percent of people take FMLA to care for a family member, including parents. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “The average caregiver over 50 who leaves the workforce to care for a parent loses $303,880 in wages, Social Security and private pensions when they do so.” Furthermore, it’s not just caregivers that need paid family leave. The labor force participation rate for seniors (65+) has grown significantly over the last 25 years. Too often, seniors, because of chronic conditions, must take time off from work to attend to their own serious health matters.
Presently, there are two competing ideas to implement paid family leave. Legislation released over the summer sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Ann Wagner would allow new parents, after a child is born, to borrow against their future Social Security for paid parental leave. The benefit from the federal government will last only a few months and will delay people from taking their Social Security benefits by three to six months, for every benefit.
In theory this legislation sounds promising, especially in the short term. However, paid family leave should not come at the expense of the Social Security retirement system!
According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, studies demonstrate how challenging it is for workers to forecast their fiscal future in retirement. Having to decide between paid family leave and future retirement defeats the entire purpose of Social Security. The main point of the Social Security Trust Fund is to serve as a secure pot of money for retirement, not individual accounts people can borrow against.
In addition, this proposed legislation does nothing to help people who need paid family leave for themselves, like seniors in the workforce, or for adults who need a source of income while taking care of their senior parent.
Fortunately, there is a better approach!
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act sponsored by Senator Kristen Gillibrand and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro provides a significantly better alternative and does not threaten employees’ future Social Security. This proposal provides paid family and medical leave for newborn children, care for a family member (including a parent) or an employee’s serious health condition. According to the findings from the FAMILY Act:
1. “The average worker age 50 and older who leaves the workforce to care for an elderly parent loses more than $300,000 in earnings and retirement income. Working caregivers should not have to risk their family’s economic security to fulfill their caregiving obligations.”
2. “The population aged 65 and over is expected to double over the next few decades. The number of people with chronic conditions is expected to reach nearly 160,000,000 by 2020. Many of these individuals will at some point require family care, and for older workers still in the workforce, many will need time off at some point to address serious health conditions.”
3. “Ensuring working family caregivers have paid family leave to care for ailing elders could drive down Medicare costs by decreasing recurrences of ailments and re-admittance into hospitals”.
Furthermore, this legislation funds paid family leave through additional revenue stemming from a very modest increase in the payroll tax split evenly between employees and employers. The average cost to employees would be $2.00 per week. This would cover the benefit to individuals and the program’s administrative costs.
While, I think the legislation has tremendous promise, it’s not without question. For example, the Social Security Trust Fund will not be able to meet all its financial obligations around 2034. Should this legislation be part of a bigger plan to place Social Security on more secure financial footing? Certainly, these are fair questions to ask. However, this all part of the legislative process.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree that paid family leave in some iteration is important. Like all issues, there are competing approaches to solve the problem. However, funding paid family leave by taking away from Social Security only opens an additional can of worms. Taking from one hand to give to the other is irresponsible. A paid family leave approach, guided by the principles from the FAMILY Act, will help ensure that basic economic needs of all types of families are being met.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
In hundreds of scripts that mated the psychology of horror with the nuclear nightmare of postwar America, Rod Serling put the blame for the annellation that was just around the corner squarely where it belonged…. on us. “Rod Serling: His Life, Work and Imagination” (University Press of Mississippi) by author and “Twilight Zone” expert Nicholas Parisi is a new 500-page biography of the man whose name alone has come to distill the condition of something eerily out of whack with the rational. In it, he shines the spotlight on the episodes of the now 60-year-old television show that has resonated with millions, of every generation.
He also documents Serling’s contributions, in whole or in part, to other well-known material produced for film, television and radio. Among these works are “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” a drama from the so-called Golden Age of Television, whose only ethical character, a brain-damaged boxer, is destroyed by the manager he loves, and the 1964 Cold War-themed movie “Seven Days in May,” still capable of packing a thrill. Pursuing his career immediately after World War II, when the particularly brutal combat he experienced added to the dark vision of the world that he had formed during childhood, Serling left a considerable legacy behind when he died at the age of 50 in 1975.
On the “Twilight Zone,” man’s inhumanity to man occurs on a grand scale but starts small, with the seemingly inconsequential aggression of “the little guy.” Transported, as Sterling intones in his well-known introduction, to a “middle ground between light and shadow,” viewers recognized this place as being like, but not like, home. There, blindly solipsistic men, women and often even children who have faith in their own moral superiority, but little else, end up decimating, rather than repairing the world. Their smugness and ignorance lead to the subjugation of the vulnerable, the election of malevolent leaders and the trusting of hungry martians. Is there anyone capable of compassion or tenderness at all? In a recurrent theme, “The Twilight Zone’s” creator looks not to humans, but robots, to answer our longing. It is this inherent pessimism that places Serling within the 20th century Jewish literary tradition. For him, even the powerless determined their own destiny, and this time, their destiny was the apocalypse.
Special Judaica Collection to Make its New York Debut
The Barr Foundation of Virginia Beach, Virginia, has launched the first American tour of its impressive Judaica collection. The installation features more than 200 traditional and contemporary Torah pointers—an implement used by the reader to retain his or her place in the text of the assigned passage, in compliance with the prohibition of touching the Torah directly. Formerly on exhibit in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the show will move to New York City, where “Guiding Hands” will be on view from February through May 2019 at Temple Emanu-El’s Hector and Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The exhibit will be augmented by examples of Torah accoutrements from the New York synagogue’s own acquisitions.
Carved, cast and fabricated, the styles of these pointers, called the yad, the Hebrew word for hand, reveal a diversity of aesthetics, and most interestingly, their construction and materials are on occasion dictated by the settings and situations in which they were created. Dating from World War II, a yad from the South Pacific theater in the foundation’s collection was made from used shell casings, while a 19th-century gilded Austrian pointer embellished with turquoise and garnets was probably commissioned by a private patron, for worship in the home. Add to these the collection’s masterpieces of design by renowned artisans, including Wendell Castle’s three-part work, a stylized rendering of an elongated silver pointer finger, complete with one extra segment, nestling in the palm of a hand-shaped stand, itself resting on a wooden table, or Michele Oka-Doner’s Surrealist-inspired sculpture-pointer, whose multiplicity of corkscrew tendrils emanate like hair or tree branches from a bronze torso-shaped handle, and there will be much to make the exhibit a memorable one.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
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