MomsRising CEO: Family-friendly policies ‘a net win for businesses’


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Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is executive director, CEO and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a national organization with more than a million members advocating for family economic security.

Co-author of “The Motherhood Manifesto,” Rowe-Finkbeiner frequently writes about public policy, family economic security, motherhood, women's issues, health, economic inequality and new feminism for blogs and magazines.

She will be the keynote speaker at the NH Women’s Foundation Women Building Community luncheon, whose theme is “Changing Workplaces: Why Family-Friendly Policies Matter.”

The event takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Center of New Hampshire/Radisson Hotel in Manchester.

Tickets are $50 per person and can be purchased online through Thursday, Nov. 12. For more information or to purchase tickets call 603-226-3355 or visit nhwomensfoundation.org.

Q. What is Moms Rising?

A. Moms Rising was started in May 2006. We have over 1 million members of Moms Rising – they’re in every state of the nation, including New Hampshire. We have a blogging and social media reach of about 5 million readers. Our membership is Democratic and Republican, and we also mirror the U.S. Census in terms of racial and ethnic composition, so we’re a multicultural organization as well.

We work at the city, county and state level across the country. We have about 30 people on staff in 11 states, including New Hampshire, but we do have activism and people engaged in fighting for family economic security policies that boost our businesses and our families in all 50 states.

Moms Rising also works in collaboration with over 200 organizations, including the NH Campaign for a Family-Friendly Economy.

When we started, hardly anybody was talking about family economic security issues, and when they did talk about them it was in a cute corner over there with some fluffy flowers. In that decade, we have seen the public policies come out of the cute corner and on to the center political stage as the economic force that they are. These policies make a difference in the bottom line of our nation. I expect to see them in this coming election move forward even more

Q. Why do you think family-friendly practices are beneficial to businesses?

A. If you take any of the family economic security policies, everything from child care to paid family leave insurance to sick days, and you break down the impact on businesses, your can see it’s a net win for businesses.

For example, with earned sick days, 80 percent of low-wage workers nationally don’t have access to a single earned sick day, and 40 percent of private sector workers don’t.

That costs our economy over $160 billion, and the reason for that is something called “presenteeism” – people showing up at work sick. There’s a decrease in the overall productivity in the labor force because they’re getting their co-workers and their colleagues sick, but also, because many of the positions are low-wage, service sector positions, they’re getting customers sick and turning customers off.

That’s just one example – to implement paid sick days actually costs businesses less than it costs not to have them.

We have a lot of examples of that particular policy being in place for many years, because now more than 20 jurisdictions have passed that policy – four states and about 18 cities.

As the policy was implemented, there was a lot of concern about people taking advantage of it, but what they’ve found is that it’s absolutely not happening. Everybody gets sick, but not everybody has a chance to get better, and people are smart – they know they’ll eventually get sick and they aren’t taking the days unless they need them. So we’re really seeing that the benefits are to the businesses and to the economy.

Paid family leave insurance is similar. If you break it down, there are five states that have paid family leave insurance. One of those states is California, which has had that policy in place for quite some time. It’s also one-fifth of our population, so it’s a giant experimental area.

What we’ve found there is that moms and dads with access to paid family leave, particularly moms, are more than 40 percent more likely to be back in the labor force a year after giving birth. They’re also extraordinarily less likely to need longer government support programs, so it saves taxpayer dollars, and businesses are happy because they have lower retraining and recruitment costs. So that policy’s a win-win-win for businesses, for families and for our economy – trifecta of wins.

Child care is a similar return on investment – it’s actually sky-high. If you could invest in that as a stock, we’d all be wealthy, because for every $1 in child care and early learning, taxpayers get back an average of $8. For a high-risk child, it’s upwards of $20. And the reason for that is there are fewer grade repetitions, fewer interactions with the criminal justice system later on in that child’s life, which is a significant cost saving to society there, as well as less need for longer-term government support programs in the future.

Businesses benefit from affordable child care because parents need safe, enriching places for their kids to be so they literally can go to work. So that is also a win-win for businesses.

The evidence is so compelling that these policies do boost our economy, they do boost our businesses and they do boost our families. What we’re talking about isn’t handouts –

we’re talking about lifting our country.

Q. The movement for family-friendly workplace policies has attracted widespread bipartisan support. Why do you think that’s so?
A.
We are seeing the partisan divide being narrowed at the city, county and state level. These issues are starting to move.

One of the things that has happened is that we have actually moved from a manufacturing economy to a consumer economy, and as that has happened, we’ve also had women become 50 percent of the labor force for the first time in history. That is a huge change.

Right now, three-quarters of moms are in the labor force, and 40 percent of all primary breadwinners are moms. And most families, if they are a couple need two breadwinners to make ends meet. So what we have is a situation where, as our US labor secretary likes to say, we have “Leave It To Beaver” policies with a “Modern Family” workforce.

Eight-two percent of women have kids before they’re 44 years old, so the majority of working women are moms. What causes businesses and families to thrive are public policies that match the reality of daily lives. Those public policies include setting floors of worker protection for things like earned sick days, paid family leave, child care and health care.

Q. What’s being done at the federal level when it comes to these policies?

A. There’s the FAMILY (Family and Medical Insurance Leave) Act for paid family leave insurance for the birth of a baby or the catastrophic illness of yourself or a parent, and there’s the Healthy Families Act, which is sick days that you could earn.

Both are gaining momentum, and part of the reason is that we’re seeing in red and blue states these policies are passing at the city, county and state level. People are frustrated, they’re fed up. These issues are polling sky-high with both Democrats and Republicans.

Q. What makes these policies so important?

A. One of the things in the big, big picture is that, right now, being a mom is a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than being a woman. So, because we live in a consumer-fueled economy, and because women make three-quarters of consumer purchasing decisions – and most are moms – if we don’t have money to spend, then it has a negative impact on local stores, the local economy and on our economy as a whole.

Some studies have found that if you increased women’s wages to parity the GDP as a whole would increase 3 percent because that would push so much more money back into the economy.

We also know from studies in countries with family  economic security policies in place that passing policies like paid family leave, earned sick days and affordable child care – child care costs more than college, by the way, in our country – lowers the wage gap between moms and non-moms and between women and men.

That means these policies lift our economy and families, but they really get at that wage gap. Right now, the U.S. Census has women making 79 cents to a man’s dollar. Moms are making about 68 cents to a dad’s dollar. Women of color are making as low in some parts of our country as 46 cents to a white man’s dollar.

Q. Did you say that child care costs more than college?

A. It costs more than sending your child to a state college. The New York Times did a great article recently and noted that if we started saving for child care the way we’re told to save for college, then you would have to start saving for your future children’s child care when you’re 8 years old.

Q. How do we know so much about the impacts of these policies?

A. When we talk about these policies, we’re not talking about inventing new solutions, these are tried-and-true and trusted solutions.

Most of these policies, these basic workplace protections, are in place in most of the rest of the world – 177 countries have access to some form of paid family leave.

We’re the only industrialized nation without it. Over 160 have a guaranteed minimum number of sick days.

Seattle, for example, which has the highest minimum wage in the country and has paid sick days, also has the highest job growth in the country. So we’re seeing in places in the United Sates that where these policies pass, not only do they not hurt the economy we’re seeing those areas in particular as areas of growth.

Q. So why don’t we have these policies in this country?

A. The United States of America has a long history of rugged individualism. In this area in particular, we are behind modern realities. It has been assumed that there would be a stay-at-home parent doing unpaid work, when that hasn’t been true for much of country, ever. And it’s not true for most of our country now.

So what we’re doing now is an the education campaign to say that when this many people are having the same problems, we don’t have an epidemic of individual personal failings, we have state and national structural issues with our workplace policies that we can address and solve together. We know the solutions, we just need to build the political will and to educate the American public that we can do this together and make this possible.

Q. When you talk to groups of employers, how do they respond to your message?

A. When you lift up the hood and look at who already has these policies, it’s some of the most profitable companies in the country, companies like Google, Microsoft, Boeing. They’re not profitable on accident. These are businesses that are smart, they look at the research and they know they can recruit the best employees and retain them if they have family economic security policies in place.

And it’s not that they’re doing well so they offer access to paid family leave, for example – it’s that they’re offering policies that match the modern labor force, which helps them do well.

Q. But what about business owners who say they can’t afford it?

A. There are a lot of myths about access to paid family leave. A lot of businesses are afraid they’ll be charged an enormously high bill that they can’t afford, and when they find out what the actual policy is, which is an employee paycheck deduction, then they usually jump up and down. I’ve actually seen some happy dances.

What happens is that people start realizing that this policy is not only the right thing to do, it’s the economically right thing to do.

Q. What’s the difference between the FAMILY Act and FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act?

A. Under FMLA, there’s unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks for companies with 50 or more employees. If you take it, your job has to be held open for those 12 weeks, so we’re adding that paid component to FMLA is basically what the FAMILY Act does.

However, many people with access to unpaid FMLA are not taking it because they cannot afford to take it. And the data on that is significant in terms of cost savings. The United States of American, for all of the health care opportunity that we have, actually has a hugely high infant mortality rate, for an industrialized nation, and we actually have a pretty high maternal mortality rate.

With unpaid leave, there’s no change in infant or maternal mortality, but with paid leave, there’s a 20 percent decrease, which is a huge drop in infant mortality and also a significant reduction in health care costs.

Q. Why is that?

A. If you think bout it, it makes sense. If you have time to recover from childbirth to establish breastfeeding, to be there for that first possible illness, or to have an environment where the infant is less likely to be sick, and make sure that the child gets their first doctor’s appointments and all of that, you set that child on a path to health with access to paid family leave.

Q. Increasing the minimum wage is also on your agenda.

A. Two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers are women – a lot of people don’t realize that, and many of them are moms. There’s a myth that minimum-wage workers are teenagers looking to earn extra money but it’s not true.

We also see that increasing the minimum wage actually boosts jobs and economic prosperity because we live in a consumer-fueled economy. Folks who earn the minimum wage are usually not putting the funds they earn into long-term savings. Usually they’re putting it immediately back into the economy, which then stimulates the economy pretty immediately.

Q. Besides family economic security, what other issues do you work on?

A. Overall, food insecurity is a major issue, a major concern. We also work on health care for all, so we support the Affordable Care Act, CHIP, Medicaid – access to health care for all people, basically. We work on racial equity and justice – our members work regularly on making sure that there’s an end to racial profiling and policy brutality.

We also work on immigration policy reform. A lot of people don’t realize but the majority of people are impacted by immigration policy reforms, should they every go through, are women and children.

We also advocate for gun safety – universal background checks and limiting military-style assault weapons with high-capacity magazines.

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