THE BLOG

What Do Paid Leave and a Box Full of Kittens Have in Common?

06/15/2015 03:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

Paid family leave is as popular as vanilla ice cream and a boxful of kittens. In a CBS-New York Times poll from late last month, 80 percent of people support a paid family leave law and 85 percent believe we should have paid sick leave!

But I'm not surprised. As I've talked about this issue over the last year, I could feel the ground shifting and the momentum gathering. Our video comparing Germany's guaranteed paid leave benefits (generous) to ours (nonexistent) went viral, with more than 5 million views. We asked you to send us personal stories about the struggle to balance competing obligations at home and at work ... and we heard from more than a thousand people in all 50 states. As Valerie Jarrett and I have traveled around the country for the "Lead on Leave" tour, the grassroots response has been overwhelming.

Don't take it from me that this is the kind of bread-and-butter issue keeping moms and dads awake at night. Listen to Sydney and Shawna from Seattle, Anne from Providence, Dan from Northern Virginia and Jason from Ohio (who currently lives in Germany, because they have paid leave there).

So far at least, Congress isn't listening to their voices. But until we get a national paid leave law -- and I believe it's a question of when, not if -- there's a lot that can happen (and is happening) to move the needle.

First, more and more employers are stepping up. They're discovering that providing paid leave benefits -- and incentivizing their contractors and supply chains to do the same -- is simply good business. Just in the last few months, we've seen Microsoft, Facebook and Goldman Sachs take bold steps forward. My family has always loved Chipotle, and we're probably going to give them even more of our business now that they've become the latest to lead on leave. Companies are recognizing that paid leave reduces training and turnover costs, that it's a formula for recruiting and retaining good workers.

There's also action at the state and local level. Five states and a growing number of cities have paid family leave or paid sick day laws, and at the Labor Department we want to encourage more. Last year, we gave four grants -- to Massachusetts, Montana, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia -- worth a total of $500,000 to help states study the feasibility of paid leave.

This year, we're doubling down -- and then some. Today, we're announcing the availability of another $1.25 million in those same grants, to help states and localities develop and implement paid leave programs. I believe, as has been the case on countless issues, that policy innovation and incubation at the state and local level will eventually lead to national reform. Change very often comes to Washington, not from Washington.

Today's grants are another important step toward ensuring that people don't have to make impossible choices between the jobs they need and the families they love. For the 80-plus percent who are ready for change on this important issue, we continue to do everything possible to #LeadOnLeave.