As editor in chief of Down East magazine, I get hundreds of letters a year from people sharing their passion for this state we call home. Take it from me, Maine, we’ve got something special, something you can’t manufacture in a marketing firm overnight, something based on this enduring truth: People want to live in, return to or relocate to Maine. In short, we have curb appeal.

As a member of the millennial generation, I also see stubborn obstacles and mindsets that are preventing us from capitalizing on this priceless asset. Our demographics and related economic challenges have been amply covered and articulated; and yet, we haven’t made the changes necessary to chart a new, more hopeful course. If we want to be competitive in recruiting new and younger Mainers to support our aging and retiring workforce, we have to have a competitive advantage. And the “quality of life” sales pitch rings hollow if you don’t have the opportunities and policies to back it up.

There are a lot of relevant issues that need solutions, from affordable and quality child care and health care to internet access and job opportunities. As a working mother, I believe one of the policies that could make a huge difference is a comprehensive paid family leave law.

Now, you have probably heard that the United States is in the company of only Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and Lesotho on the list of countries that don’t offer paid maternity leave, a prominent component of paid family leave. But paid leave is not limited to women having babies. It also, for example, covers an ever-growing contingent of us Mainers who are or will be caring for our aging parents or sick family members.

I won’t bore you with sad statistics. (OK, I can’t resist. Did you know that one in four American moms goes back to work less than two weeks after having a baby?) I also won’t guilt you with all the morally compelling reasons why paid leave is simply the humane thing to do. (OK, you try navigating a child’s cancer treatment while fearing for the job that provides your insurance.)

But what I will do is entice you with the argument that seems to have the highest chance for success: the bottom-line benefits. Researchers have found that paid family leave increases female participation in the labor force, increases employee retention rates, reduces turnover costs, improves worker satisfaction, loyalty and productivity, and vastly improves medical and mental health outcomes, which — you guessed it — reduces health care costs for everyone.

Current Maine law states that if you work for a company with more than 15 employees, you won’t get fired if you take up to 10 weeks of unpaid time off in a two-year period. If you happen to be at a smaller business, you’re totally at the mercy of your employer, many of which can’t afford or manage paid leave programs.

Maine, we can do better.

Building on successful programs in other states, we can create a paid leave fund that functions like insurance so that workers receive at least a partial income when they need to take family leave. A statewide policy makes this much easier on small and large businesses alike and ensures that all Mainers have more options when faced with major illnesses, welcoming a new child to our families or caring for a loved one.

Here at Down East, we now offer three months of paid parental leave along with a host of progressive workplace policies, including unlimited sick and vacation days. We made the change because we want to retain and recruit talented people. We also made the change because we represent Maine values in everything we do – not just on our pages.

If Maine truly wants to be the way life should be, we need businesses, towns and cities and, ultimately, the state to step up and support the families that already live here as well as inspire the ones that want to move here to take the plunge.

Maine is deeply ingrained in who I am and what I do – and I want it to be a thriving place for decades to come. Passing a comprehensive paid family leave law is one step we have to take if we want a bright future for our state.

Kathleen Fleury is editor in chief of Down East magazine and a resident of Camden.

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