Meghan Markle called for national paid leave in a compelling letter to Congress, recalling a childhood watching her own family struggle to make ends meet.
The Duchess of Sussex published the Oct. 20 letter on the website Paid Leave For All, addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, following demands for President Biden to strengthen his national family leave plan — previously proposed as 12 weeks but likely amounting to four, as sources recently told CNN.
Currently, the United States does not have a mandated federal plan aside from the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees to care for children or family members, provided their companies employ 50 or more people. However, the majority of Americans don’t believe that’s sufficient — according to an April YouGov poll, 68 percent want companies to extend paid leave to mothers and fathers.
“I’m not an elected official, and I’m not a politician,” wrote Markle. “I am, like many, an engaged citizen and a parent. And because you and your congressional colleagues have a role in shaping family outcomes for generations to come, that’s why I’m writing to you at this deeply important time—as a mom—to advocate for paid leave.” Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, are parents of daughter Lilibet, 4 months, and son Archie, 2.
“Over the past 20 months, the pandemic has exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities,” she wrote. “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. The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost.”
Working mothers had it rough during the pandemic — according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in January, 10 million mothers were not actively working, which is 1.4 million more than in January of the previous year. According to the department, moms are likelier to work in jobs that were shuttered during the pandemic (for example, daycare centers) and do the majority of cooking, cleaning, and childcare, all of which can interfere with the ability to earn a paycheck.
Markle reflected on watching her parents (Donna Ragland, a former makeup artist, and Thomas Markle, a former lighting director), work hard during her childhood. “I grew up on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler — it may have cost less back then (to be honest, I can’t remember) — but what I do remember was the feeling: I knew how hard my parents worked to afford this because even at five bucks, eating out was something special, and I felt lucky,” she wrote. “And as a Girl Scout, when my troop would go to dinner for a big celebration, it was back to that same salad bar or The Old Spaghetti Factory — because that’s what those families could afford to do too.”
The Duchess recalled working at a local frozen yogurt store as a young teen. “I waited tables, babysat, and piecemealed jobs together to cover odds and ends,” she wrote. “I worked all my life and saved when and where I could — but even that was a luxury — because usually it was about making ends meet and having enough to pay my rent and put gas in my car.”
However, she acknowledged her privilege in not having to rush back to work after the birth of her children: “Like any parents, we were overjoyed. Like many parents, we were overwhelmed. Like fewer parents, we weren’t confronted with the harsh reality of either spending those first few critical months with our baby or going back to work…”
Before signing off by including the names of Harry, Archie, and Lilibet (Lilli), Markle added, “I know how politically charged things can—and have—become. But this isn’t about Right or Left, it’s about right or wrong. This is about putting families above politics. And for a refreshing change, it’s something we all seem to agree on. At a point when everything feels so divisive, let this be a shared goal that unites us.”
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