It might surprise some to know that Utah failed—again. In 2005, Utah received a D- because state workers were allowed up to a year of unpaid leave (which could include recovery from childbirth), providing their condition was certified by a medical professional. In 2012, Utah got an F.
How could Utah’s family policies get worse instead of better? Isn’t Utah supposed to be family-friendly? Family-friendly values might be reflected in the lives of the state's citizens to some degree, but they are certainly not reflected in Utah’s policies.
If you’re wondering about the other states, nobody got an A. The best grade was California’s A-, which was mostly due to their paid family leave policy (you can get partial pay for up to six weeks in California to care for your newborn). Other states received higher marks than Utah for their universal paid sick leave policies or their steps toward giving more workers access to sick leave.
The states that received F’s didn’t have a single family-friendly policy or initiative.
According to the report, “73 percent return to work within six months of giving birth. Seventy-seven percent of mothers with children under the age of six and 78 percent of mothers with elementary- to high-school-age children work outside the home. In fact, 71 percent of children live in households where all parents work.”
Those are the trends in the United States. But are the trends the same in Utah? Surely the religious and cultural emphasis on families affects labor force participation here, right? The numbers that follow are courtesy of Lecia Langston, Regional Economist for the Department of Workforce Services in Utah.
- Utah women participate in the labor force at a higher rate than the national average. (This has been true for more than 30 years!)
- The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that half of all new marriages will end in divorce.
- Utah has a higher divorce rate than the national average.
- Most Utah women who work are married.
- Most Utah women who work have children.
- Despite Utah’s larger-than-average families, three-fourths of Utah women with school-age children work outside the home.
- The average Utah working woman spent 33 hours a week on the job.
- In 2010, almost 40 percent of Utah’s female-headed households with children lived in poverty.
Most people (i.e. voters) believe that employers should provide some kind of family and medical leave. But the U.S. continues to trail other nations on family policy. You might think it would be the opposite; after all, don’t Americans cherish family values?
You could say, if you looked at the data closely, that the Partnership only examined three areas of family law, and that there is other family-centered legislation out there that they didn’t measure. And that’s probably true. But if the old adage is true, that the way you spell love is T-I-M-E, then our families are getting shortchanged.
If we had legislation that allowed new parents to spend time at home with their babies, if we guaranteed their right to take care of their families when they are sick, and we promoted breastfeeding in the workplace, not only would the workplace and the employees reap the benefits, but families could spend more time together.
For things to change, we have to stand up, individually and as a society, for our values. We have to share the message that though work matters to families, time together matters even more. If we want Utah to lead the way in being family-friendly, it needs to start making some policies that reflect the importance of families in our lives.
Here are some ways your voice can be heard: Letters to the editor can be sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email government representatives—this link includes contact information for the governor, senators, congressmen, and legislators. You can also share this link (or any of these others I've included here) on Facebook or other social media. You can talk about these ideas with your family and friends.
Most importantly, I'm hoping that we, in Utah and elsewhere, won't just sit back and do nothing.