GUEST COLUMN:

Paid family and medical leave would strengthen Nevada’s growing economy

As Nevada’s voters prepare for today’s caucuses, many are focused on the economy — both at large and in terms of their families’ well-being.

While economic growth has continued in the decade since the Great Recession, the state’s most affluent residents are getting wealthier while wages have stagnated, workplace benefits have declined and living expenses have increased for middle- and low-income families. More Nevadans — particularly children — are living in poverty, and young families and communities of color are facing significant economic disparities even while fueling the state’s economic recovery. Candidates running for office must address the pocketbook issues that workers in Nevada face every day.

We believe there is a key solution that will meet the needs of working families and businesses alike in an affordable and meaningful way: paid family and medical leave.

Today, only 19% of working people have access to paid family leave through an employer. In Nevada, even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is inaccessible for 61% of working people. This lack of access can lead to devastating financial consequences — particularly for workers of color who, due to past and present institutionalized racism that has resulted in significant health and economic disparities, face greater difficulty absorbing the financial shock of a serious family or medical need.

With more than 35,000 children born in Nevada each year, and the growing “Sandwich Generation” caught between caring for their children while supporting aging relatives, Nevadans are forced to make impossible choices. It’s the servers, bartenders, kitchen and laundry workers — many of whom are vital to the state’s economy and represented by the 60,000-member Culinary Union — who face the decision between earning a paycheck or taking care of a new child or a family member. And in a state where people of color make up nearly half of the residents and women make up nearly half the workforce, the lack of paid family and medical leave contributes to Nevada’s racial and gender wage gaps. It also has an outsized impact on the low-wage and part-time workers at the heart of Nevada’s tourism, hospitality and gaming industries. It should be no surprise that 88% of Latino voters in Nevada say they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports paid family and medical leave.

Paid family and medical leave helps create a climate in which people are better able to join, succeed and advance in the workforce — where parents and caregivers have the freedom to grow and provide for their families. This matters to the 70% of Nevada families in which all parents have paying jobs. This matters to Nevada’s aging workers, young families, caregivers, small-business owners and entrepreneurs.

It’s time for a solution that strengthens all families, businesses and the economy. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (Family) Act, the leading proposal before Congress, is a common sense and inclusive plan based on what we already know works. The legislation, which is modeled after successful state programs, would provide all workers — including part-time, low-income or self-employed workers — with up to 12 weeks of paid, job-protected leave to address serious medical or family caregiving needs.

Businesses and business leaders — including a majority of small-business owners — support a national, comprehensive paid leave policy like the Family Act. They know that paid family and medical leave strengthens their businesses by reducing turnover costs and improving employee productivity.

Eighty-four percent of voters support a comprehensive national paid leave policy that covers all working people, including majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans — and many presidential candidates.

Our elected leaders and those vying for office pay lip service to valuing families and supporting business growth. Now it’s time for them to act on that rhetoric by prioritizing the needs of workers in Nevada and throughout the country. It’s time to pass the Family Act.

Debra Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Jan Jones Blackhurst is a member of Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s board of directors and is a former mayor of Las Vegas.