We All Need Paid Leave to Take Care of Our Families

By Shelby Ramirez Martinez, 9to5 Colorado organizer and activist
Pictured here with her daughter

As a woman working a low-wage job, it can be a struggle to make it paycheck to paycheck. For years, I worked full-time as a hotel security guard. That’s where I was employed when my younger daughter needed surgery at the same time that my elderly father needed immediate medical attention. Times were tough. If not for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), I would not have been able to take time off from work to care for them.

But having to take time off unpaid was an enormous financial burden for me. I had to choose between paying rent and caring for my family. I needed to make sure they had the medications and healthy meals they needed. After not paying rent and utilities, I got an eviction notice and it took me four months to get even partially caught up with my bills.

Women are almost half the workforce in the U.S. We also do much more than half of the unpaid work caring for family members1. In households with two working parents, moms spend about 75 percent more time on child care than dads. Women provide two-thirds of the care needed for sick, elderly, or disabled family members.2 This culture of female caregiving means that having no paid family leave hits women’s paychecks harder than men’s.

Although FMLA is great and it made me able to keep my job, the law is over 20 years old, and it needs an update. In this country, we need a paid family and medical leave insurance program that provides job-protected paid leave for everyone when we need time to care for our families, however we define them, and for ourselves.

Having paid family and medical leave is necessary now and for the future of our families. Establishing paid family leave is also a necessary step to close the gender wage and stop punishing women financially for taking care of our families. That’s why I’ve gotten involved with 9to5 and am taking action to ensure that all of us are able to be there for our families when our care is needed.


  1. Women in the Labor Force in 2010.” United States Department of Labor. January 2010.
  2. Explaining the Wage Gap.” National Women’s Law Center. April 2013.
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