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Rhode Island’s Small Victory

Sharon Lerner
The American Prospect

When Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby.

Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out.

Workers will be able to use the time to care for a broad range of people, including children, spouses, domestic partners, parents, parent-in-laws, grandparents, and foster children. And, though the maximum single leave is four weeks, each parent can take four weeks off to bond with a new baby. A mother recovering from birth could combine that with an additional six weeks paid through an existing state program, bringing her total paid time off to ten weeks. An entire family with a new baby could have 14 weeks off paid.

Coming just two years after the bill was first introduced, Rhode Island’s quick victory can help us understand why progress in the rest of the country has been so slow—and why it might be picking up.

In the United States, such paid leave is a huge leap forward. But, globally speaking, it’s more of a baby step. Many rich countries, including Canada, Australia, and most of Europe, have long granted their workers paid time off to care for sick relatives. And virtually every country in the world, rich or poor, provides paid time off to care for a new baby—if not for both parents, then at least for mothers. Most provide more than six months of paid maternity leave. More than a dozen countries grant new fathers as well as new mothers more than a year off with pay.