Paid Family Leave and Free Preschool Notch Big Wins in Colorado and Oregon


Voters hoping former Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic Senate candidates would score a landslide victory on election night went to bed disappointed, but progressive ballot measures won big in many states—including programs aimed at supporting working parents.

In Colorado, a ballot measure to establish a statewide paid leave program passed 57 percent to 43 percent. In Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes the city of Portland, voters approved a program to provide tuition-free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The presidential election may still be a nail-biter, but one thing is clear: care policies are winning,” says Julie Kashen, a senior fellow and director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation.

Paid family leave and access to affordable childcare have taken on added urgency, she says, due to the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.

“Care policies were already gaining political traction before the pandemic but they are even more urgent today. With schools and childcare centers closed or limited, women have been forced out of the workforce or forced to reduce their hours to take on care responsibilities.”

Proposition 118, the paid family leave ballot measure in Colorado, is a remarkable win for working parents in part because lawmakers were unable to pass the program in the state legislature, despite Democratic attempts for the past six years.

The initiative allows new parents and those caring for sick family members to take 12 weeks of paid leave, at up to $1,000 per week—similar to paid leave laws passed in Connecticut and New York in recent years. The program is funded equally in a 50-50 split by employers and employees, who each would contribute 0.45 percent of an employee’s wages to an insurance pool run by the Colorado Department of Labor. Workers can begin accessing the funds in 2024.

Colorado is now the ninth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to pass a paid family leave program—and the first to pass it by ballot measure.

Meanwhile, parents in Multnomah County, Oregon, landed a notable win when it comes to affordable childcare: Residents said yes to Measure 26-214, which provides voluntary, tuition-free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds. The initiative is funded by levying an additional 1.5 percent income tax on individuals making over $125,000 and couples making over $200,000. In addition, it raises the wages of lead preschool teachers to parity with those of kindergarten teachers, and guarantees assistant preschool teachers a minimum wage of $18 an hour, Vox reports.

Parent-friendly proposals weren’t the only progressive ballot measures that notched wins last night. Voters gave the OK to marijuana legalization for recreational use in four states: New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota. And even though President Donald Trump carried the state of Florida, residents voted in favor of an amendment raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next six years—signs of an election that seems to have shaken out more favorably for Democratic Party platform policies than Democratic candidates.

“I think these results just reinforce that people want policies that respond to their specific, everyday needs. These aren’t ‘progressive’ policies and politicians and talking heads should stop thinking of them as such,” says Vicki Shabo, the senior fellow for paid leave policy and strategy for the Better Life Lab at New America. Arizona approved a ballot measure providing workers with paid sick leave in 2016, she points out, while also sending Donald Trump to the White House.

“Paid leave and paid sick days are more popular than candidates,” Shabo says. “It would be both good politics and good policy for candidates to lean into them much more than most have so far.”


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