Senator Rubio’s Paid Leave Proposal is a Threat to Economic Security

By Pronita Gupta 

Today, over 40 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. Many become poor because of illness and caregiving responsibilities. That’s why paid family and medical leave is a critical anti-poverty measure.

Last week, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) proposed the Economic Security for New Parents Act, saying he wants to address the paid leave crisis facing low-income families. Rubio claims his bill will “allow parents to use their own (retirement) benefits to spend more time being involved in the lives of their children at an early age.” But that’s not the truth. In reality, the bill would make low-income workers gamble with their retirement security. 

Low-income families are forced to make impossible choices between caring for a loved one and getting a paycheck. Over 96 percent of very low-wage workers, especially Black and Latino workers, have no access to paid family and medical leave. When these workers make the choice to care for a new child, a loved one, or themselves, they pay a steep price—losing income or even their jobs. They also delay or forgo necessary medical or preventative services. 

Rubio’s bill would do nothing to help low-income families access meaningful paid family and medical leave. First, the proposal excludes most workers and their needs, since it only provides paid parental leave. Over 70 percent of the leaves taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act are for broader family caregiving. That includes people recovering from their own illness or caring for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent.

Second, the proposal would require workers to borrow from their future Social Security benefits to pay for parental leave. This isn’t “borrowing.” Because it forces workers to postpone receiving their Social Security benefits, it’s effectively a benefit cut. As it stands, most families have no retirement savings and Social Security remains the primary source of retirement income. Social Security cuts would undermine the long-term economic security of low-income workers and their families.

Furthermore, many workers can’t postpone retirement due to health problems, which are often exacerbated by stressful, physically demanding, low-quality jobs. This is especially true for Black and Latino workers, who tend to retire early due to health concerns.

Low-wage workers need policies that let them care for themselves and their loved ones without sacrificing economic security (now or in the future). That means policies like the FAMILY Act, which would create a national paid leave insurance program. The bill would allow workers to take paid leave to care for themselves, a new child, or a seriously ill family member.