On Wednesday, October 20, Meghan Markle published an open letter to Congress advocating for paid family leave.
The topic is one that has been top of mind, especially considering the effects the pandemic has had on parents, particularly women, in the workforce.
“Over the past 20 months, the pandemic has exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities. At an alarming rate, millions of women dropped out of the workforce, staying home with their kids as schools and daycares were closed, and looking after loved ones full-time,” Markle writes in her letter. “The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid.”
While the pandemic may have exacerbated the issue, this conflict isn’t new, she says. In fact, it’s a hard choice that parents dreaming of stability have had to make for the past 20 or 30 years–and maybe even longer.
In the letter, Markle shares her own personal experiences growing up with parents who worked hard to make ends meet. She herself started working at the age of 13, waiting tables, babysitting and taking jobs here and there, saving wherever she could.
“People in our country work incredibly hard, and yet the ask is soft: for a level playing field to achieve their version of a common dream–what is fair, and equal, and right,” she continues. “Many of our economic systems are past their expiration date, and as you well know, too many Americans are forced to shortchange themselves when it comes to what matters to them.”
She continues to recount welcoming her daughter this past June and acknowledges her family didn’t have to make many of the difficult decisions so many American families make concerning childcare, working and medical care following the birth of a child.
“No family should be faced with these decisions. No family should have to choose between earning a living and having the freedom to take care of their child (or a loved one, or themselves, as we would see with a comprehensive paid leave plan),” she writes. “When paid leave is a right, we’re creating a foundation that helps address mental health outcomes, health care costs, and economic strength at the starting line. Instead, as it stands now, we spend a fortune as a country paying into symptoms rather than causes.”
Markle also addresses how far behind the United States stands when it comes to paid family leave compared to other countries. She mentions that paid leave “should not be a place to compromise or negotiate” and that many other countries already have paid leave policies in place.
“Paid leave should be a national right, rather than a patchwork option limited to those whose employers have policies in place, or those who live in one of the few states where a leave program exists,” she writes. “If we’re going to create a new era of family first policies, let’s make sure that includes a strong paid leave program for every American that’s guaranteed, accessible, and encouraged without stigma or penalty…This is about putting families above politics. And for a refreshing change, it’s something we all seem to agree on.”