Democratic candidates tackle paid family leave during fifth debate

For the first time since the Democratic presidential debates began five months ago, moderators asked candidates on stage in Atlanta last night what they would do to address high child-care costs and the lack of paid parental leave in the U.S.

Ashley Parker, a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, pointed out that in Georgia, the average price of infant daycare can be as much as $8,500 per child per year — more than instate tuition at some four-year public colleges in the state — and asked how candidates would ease that financial burden.

“There are only two countries in the world that don’t have paid family leave for new moms, the United States of America and Papua New Guinea,” tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang said. “That is the entire list. And we need to get off this list as soon as possible.”

That’s not quite true, although Yang isn’t far from the mark. In March, he himself tweeted out that Lesotho and Swaziland also don’t offer paid leave for new mothers. But Yang vowed to pass paid family leave “as one of the first things we do.”

Still, among developed countries, the U.S. remains an outlier: Out of 41 nations, it’s the only one that does not require companies to provide paid time off for new parents, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Last March, only 17 percent of all workers had access to paid family leave, the Department of Labor found.

He also pointed to universal base income, one of the key tenets of his campaign, in which every American would receive $1,000 a month — money that he said could go toward childcare. Or, he said, a parent could stay and care for the child.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar then promised to require companies to offer three months paid family leave, taking a dig at California Sen. Kamala Harris’s loftier proposal of six months paid leave, suggesting it would cost the government too much money.

“I just am not going to go for things — and this is not — I’m talking about Sen. Harris’s plan here, but I’m talking about some of the other ideas that have been out here,” she said. “I am not going to go for things just because they sound good on a bumper sticker and then throw in a free car.

Klobuchar is one of the candidates who endorsed New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Family Act, which provides three months of paid leave to families, with up to 66 percent of each worker’s income covered by a slight increase in payroll taxes.

When asked how she would pay for six months of paid family leave, however, Harris dodged the question.

“Six months, so part of how I believe we’re going to win this election is, it is going to be because we are focused on the future, we are focused on the challenges that are presented today and not trying to bring back yesterday to solve tomorrow,” she said.