Editorials

Family time matters to this generation of fathers. Let’s update family policy.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry kisses his daughter Riley as the team celebrates its championship victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry kisses his daughter Riley as the team celebrates its championship victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. AP

Times change. As the Golden State Warriors celebrated their NBA championship under a blizzard of golden confetti, Steph Curry took a victory lap around the court, hoisting not a game ball, but his little girl.

Draymond Green, exultant, cradled his 6-month-old baby.The crowd went wild as JaVale McGee’s daughter napped on his shoulder. Zaza Pachulia greeted victory with his kids in tow.

A generation ago, fans scarcely knew whether male sports stars even had children. Now fatherhood is front and center and very hip, and not just in the NBA.

As paid work has become the norm for the vast majority of American mothers, fathers have increasingly discovered how much unpaid work goes into raising a family. More than 70 percent of women with children under 18 work outside the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, including nearly 62 percent of women with children under age 3.

From California to Congress, families are waiting for programs that reflect the real world, in which more than 70 percent of mothers have jobs, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled and 82 percent of Americans under 30 want paid paternity leave.

Women still do more child care, research shows. And they still don’t earn as much as men, even in the public sector, as Kate Karpilow has been reporting in a series for California Forum. But last year, 50 percent of U.S. infants under a year old were in homes where all the parents were working, and the average time their fathers spent caring for them was way up from their grandfathers’ day.

Since 1965, the amount of time men spend on child care, on average, has more than doubled, from about 2.5 hours a week to more than 6, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some 2 million American dads were home full-time in 2014, twice the number of stay-at-home dads in 1989.

As a result, pressure to update family policy has mounted, legislatively and in business. A Pew Research Center survey released in March found that nearly 70 percent of Americans – and 82 percent of Americans under 30 – think, for example, that fathers should have paid paternity leave.

We think so, too. Women never will gain true workplace equality until men fully share in child care. Majorities of voters in both major political parties support paid paternity leave. So do corporate employers from Amazon to Zillow, who in the past couple of years have expanded family leave benefits and made them more gender-neutral.

So, in a backhanded way, does President Donald Trump, or at least his daughter Ivanka, though the Trumps’ $25 billion federal paid leave program would steal money from unemployment insurance to let states offer paid leave for working parents.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of states, including the District of Columbia and New York, are creating their own paid leave programs, following the lead of California, which in 2004 enacted the first statewide paid family leave law.

For all this, only about 12 percent of U.S. non-government workers have access to paid family leave, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. By contrast, fathers in Europe get weeks, and in some cases months, of paid paternity leave.

Nationally, the closest Americans come to such a benefit is the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which gives workers 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for sick relatives and new babies, but which doesn’t cover lost pay, and doesn’t apply to the millions of parents who work at companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Even California’s pioneering program is a mingy patchwork; many new fathers who try to take paternity leave risk losing their jobs because the state program lacks job protections for workers employed by small businesses.

And attempts to strengthen California’s program are routinely labeled “job killers” by business lobbyists, in a reaction that can only be viewed as knee-jerk; family leave in California is completely funded by workers, through the state’s disability insurance apparatus, and employers’ responses have been positive or neutral in surveys.

The problem, like so much else, appears to come down to political polarization. To that end, economists at two think tanks – the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institutions – this month put forth a potential compromise.

The draft of their federal plan would offer eight weeks of parental leave with job protection and 70 percent wage replacement, up to a limit. It would be funded by a combination of payroll taxes and savings, wouldn’t increase the deficit and wouldn’t harm low-income families.

Will Congress bite? Probably not yet, given the toxicity in Washington, D.C., at the moment. Still, as even the NBA shows, each generation is a game-changer.

“I think we have to realize that the ground has shifted,” New York Republican Rep. Peter T. King told The New York Times earlier this month, discussing Trump’s family leave proposal. “I don’t mean the political ground, I mean the family ground.”

Yes, it has. And families from California to Congress could use a win.

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