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How Obama Can Win Over 'Women for the Change We Need'

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As election day fast approaches, presidential candidates are rolling out new programs targeted at women voters -- middle class women in particular -- using a variety of media sources. What the candidates need to realize is women care less about the medium and more about the message. One surefire way of winning over women voters is by addressing key issues such as paid family leave.

At the beginning of the week, presidential candidate Barack Obama unveiled a new theme, "Women for the Change We Need" in an attempt to reconnect with women at rallies and registration drives. According to reports, in the last month, Senator John McCain has bought more commercial spots on Oprah than Senator Obama. Nevertheless, issues remain critical in winning over women voters.

Recently, the Drum Major Institute hosted a seminar focused on "Guaranteeing Paid Family Leave," with New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine as the featured speaker. In May of this year, Governor Corzine signed New Jersey's Family Leave Insurance Bill into law. Under the provisions of the law, employees caring for a newborn or newly-adopted child or a sick family member are able to take up to six weeks a year of paid leave. While on leave, employees will receive two-thirds of their weekly pay, financed through a 46-cent a week payroll tax on all employees and administered through the state's Temporary Disability Insurance system. When the law goes into effect in 2009, New Jersey will be only the third state in the nation to guarantee paid family leave.

Paid family leave or, more appropriately, family leave insurance, is an issue that deserves a place in the national spotlight rather than languish at the state level. The notion is endorsed by Governor Corzine who thinks paid family leave should be on the agenda for the next president. After all, presidential candidate Barack Obama did allude to the issue in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

So why do we need a national agenda for paid family leave, given the reluctance by small businesses to fully embrace the idea? According to Dan Cantor, of the Working Families Party, the marketplace will never produce paid family leave on its own. Second, studies have shown that employees in workplaces with paid family leave tend to be more productive. Third, paid family leave is cost effective. In New Jersey, paid family insurance works out to be $33 per year or .66cents per week. Ana Oliveira, of the New York Women's Foundation, thinks the correct question to ask is, "What is the cost of not having paid family leave?" Finally, paid family leave, universally viewed as in terms of 'family values,' can easily be attached to some omnibus legislation and framed as a human rights issue.

As presidential candidate Barack Obama moves forward with his "Women for the Change We Need," he should carve out some "change" for women in need.