By Maddie Granato, Age 23
I’m 23 years old and a few (read: many) years away from starting a family. I’m even further from being sandwiched between the needs of my own children and the demands of elderly loved ones; though I’ve watched my parents navigate those murky waters for most of my life. I’ve never felt the impact of unpaid leave, or the emotional and physical pain of having to return to work after having a baby. But paid leave matters to me – a lot – and I’ll tell you why.
I land somewhat in the middle of the millennial generation – a population that’s been teased as disloyal, entitled and lazy since the dawn of Internet dependency. Labeled everything from self-obsessed narcissists to passionate idealists, millennials are now the largest represented generation in the workforce. Let that sink in.
Call us what you want, but you definitely can’t deny the fact that millennials are currently burdened with challenges that are clearly unique to our generation. Research has indicated that millennials are facing higher rates of poverty, lower incomes and increased student loan debt than previous generations did at the same age – all factors that are either adding difficulty to or preventing us entirely from starting families of our own. Side note: this might also explain why we millennials accounted for 42% of US wine consumption last year. (Lol.)
Millennials also differ from the Baby Boomers or Gen X in our fondness for workplace flexibility: we’re reportedly much more likely to seek out companies that offer paid parental leave and are happier, more engaged employees while working for those that do. It makes sense, especially since most millennials are at the age most likely to be moving into management positions and having children at the same time, creating a greater demand for policies that support and celebrate working families.
Like me, a large number of millennials were barely infants when the federal government enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave to eligible workers. Twenty-three years after its passage, FMLA is unchanged – though shifting workforce dynamics, a fluctuating economy, increased cost of living and astronomical childcare rates would demand otherwise. At the time of its passage, FMLA was seen as a progressive step towards aiding working families. And that’s exactly what we need now: PROGRESS.
As a millennial, I want to live and work in a state that acknowledges that employees need to be supported personally in order to prosper professionally; that to improve the state’s business climate, we must also reconsider the ways in which we value childbearing, childrearing and caregiving; and that as a young woman, having a family and a career are not mutually exclusive.
Let’s face it: it’ll be a pretty long time before any of Connecticut’s cities have the same draw as Boston or NYC. But that’s okay. There are other ways to retain a talented young workforce, and providing paid leave is start.
If Connecticut really wants to keep millennials from moving elsewhere, maybe it’s time to give us what we want: a culture that understands, values and supports the juggling act of moving up the career ladder while simultaneously feeling the pressure to have children; that sets itself apart from the national “glass ceiling” for women wanting to start a family and advance their career. And most of all: workplace policies that focus on the needs of actual workers instead of the high cost demands and complaints of big business.
I’m a millennial and I want paid leave, now.