By Zoë Brooks-Jeffiers
Happy Pride Month! We at HCAN are strong believers that families, no matter what they look like, deserve equal rights, opportunities, and care. It is crucial that parents, guardians, and all caregivers have the ability to give their children the love, care, and attention they need and deserve, no matter what their family structure is.
As we fight for paid family leave and other policies we deserve, let’s make sure to use inclusive family terminology. According to Family Equality, “paid family and medical leave policies are not widely available in the United States, and those that exist have narrow definitions of ‘family’ that are not inclusive of many LGBTQ family structures.” Marriage equality was a massive win for America’s families, but we must keep pushing lawmakers to create further policies that include the evolving family structures we are seeing in today’s society. Families are becoming increasingly diverse and many are stepping away from the “traditional” two-parent, cis-heterosexual, nuclear family.
Inclusive meanings of “family” do not just include a member's sexuality or gender identity. The most recent KIDS Count data shows that over 25% of children in Hawaiʻi live in a single parent home, and 11,000 kids in Hawaiʻi are being raised by a family member who is not their parent. Around 1 in 3 children in the U.S. do not live with both biological parents. Many live with grandparents, a single parent, an adoptive parent, or a foster parent. None of these groups of people deserve to have less paid time off to take care of their dependents.
Paid family leave helps everyone: children, families, business, and the economy. Hannah Matthews and Sade Moonsammy wrote in The Hill that “Paid leave is proven to support women’s employment, reduce worker turnover and bolster family economic security — saving families nationwide over $22 billion annually.” This money saved would be able to be spent elsewhere, supporting other areas of the economy — not to mention it could potentially help families escape the cycle of poverty.
Almost 30% of children in Hawai’i below 18 are living in low-income families and around 12% live in poverty. Limited access to paid family leave was already a major concern, pre-pandemic, but the COVID-19 disaster has only exacerbated the issue. In Hawaiʻi, no employees have the right to paid family leave, which leaves many with little to no options should they or a loved one get sick. Far too many parents and caregivers are then forced to choose between a paycheck or caring for themselves or their family.
To add insult to injury, affordable and quality child care is rare. Child Care Aware reported that child care facilities in Hawaiʻi can cost families between around $9,000 and $14,000 per year. This is simply not an option for many families in the islands that are living paycheck to paycheck. In The Hill, Matthews and Moonsammy wrote that “Investments in quality child care similarly [to paid leave] strengthen family financial stability, create jobs and raise child care workers’ wages, and support children’s wellbeing and development.”
The time is now for substantial, robust, and sustainable investments in families and their keiki. Inclusive paid family leave and affordable, quality child care are necessary for a brighter future in Hawaiʻi and America as a whole. I am excited to see President Biden’s American Families Plan and am hopeful for what it could mean for our keiki, but I know the fight is not over.