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Supporting working families

Megan Sennett, a single mother of three from Annapolis, works three part-time jobs. She spoke in favor of paid sick leave before a hearing on the bill in the Senate Finance Committee. (Timothy Wheeler/Baltimore Sun)

Megan Sennett lives in Annapolis with her three daughters. Like thousands of moms, she supports her kids with a part-time job. In fact, she has three of them. It's a high-wire balancing act. The slightest bump can knock her right off.

For Megan, that blow came last summer when she was diagnosed with a kidney infection. Her doctor said that, with treatment, it wouldn't be a serious illness. There was just one catch: She would need 10 days off to recover.

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But none of her employers offers paid sick leave. Megan simply couldn't afford to take that much time off. As a result, she went back to work before she was better, and that made her sick all over again. She ended up in the ER.

These days, too many parents are forced to make impossible choices. Do they go to work injured? Send a sick child to school? Let an aging parent fend for themselves? Or do they take a day off to care for their loved ones?

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In America, taking care of yourself and your family can mean losing a paycheck or even a job. Megan — who's now fully recovered — thinks that's unfair. She's right. It's time we did something about it.

Working parents deserve the security of knowing they won't lose income for taking a few days off to recover from their own illness or to care for an ill family member. That's what paid leave provides.

This is about more than fairness. It's about economic competitiveness. As American women have moved into the workforce over the past 40 years, they've driven a huge amount of growth — more than $3.5 trillion. But even as women have transformed our workforce, our workplace policies have not kept pace. Right now, women are breadwinners in two-thirds of families with children. That's why paid leave is so necessary. Without it, it's a lot harder to both work and have kids.

It's no coincidence that the United States — the only advanced economy in the world that doesn't guarantee paid leave — has dropped in the ranking of women's participation in the workforce. We're now 19th among advanced economies. Many American women — including plenty who want to work and whose family could use the income — are running into all kinds of invisible barriers that make working much harder than it should be.

As a result, we're leaving a lot of talent on the sidelines. And in a global economy, that's just not smart.

This problem matters to Maryland. Forty percent of private sector employees in this state have no paid leave. And low-wage workers have it even worse; a full 80 percent of them have no paid leave. That means hundreds of thousands of families are living without this basic measure of security.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans in Congress have consistently failed to address this problem. That's why we're lucky to have leaders like Sen. Barbara Mikulski blazing a path. Barbara wasn't just the first woman senator to wear a pantsuit on the Senate floor (which I appreciated). She's also been one of the strongest voices arguing that improving our economy means focusing on working family issues like this.

Senator Mikulski is retiring, but her legacy is alive and well in the Maryland General Assembly. The "Maryland Healthy Working Families Act" would provide workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work. It has a good chance of passing. That's a great start.

But we need to do more at the national level. Something this important shouldn't depend on what state you live in or what employer you have. I'm running for president to make sensible policies like these available to all Americans.

As president, I will fight to make sure that every American has the right to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year. And I'll also fight to make sure that working Americans are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a new baby or sick family member, or to recover from a serious illness or injury.

Paid family leave won't cost middle class families or businesses a dime. We can fully fund this by asking the very wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of taxes.

Then, let's finally ensure equal pay for women. That would go a long way toward helping working families. Right now, women are paid only 78 cents for every dollar men earn. African American and Latina women make even less. We've got to close that gap.

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I've been fighting for paid leave and equal pay for my entire career. As First Lady, the first bill my husband signed as president was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which I fought to expand. In the Senate, I co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as a key step toward equal pay. I believe when we shortchange women, we shortchange entire families.

Let's make America a place where hard-working people don't have to choose between doing their jobs and being good parents — and where folks like Megan Sennett don't have to sacrifice their health to keep their jobs. We can and should do better than that. If I'm elected president, I'll fight to make sure we do.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a former first lady, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state. She is a democratic candidate for president of the United States.

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