Good morning. As we enter the new century, opportunity is abundant. We're in the midst of the longest economic expansion in history, with 22 million new jobs and the lowest unemployment in 30 years. Yet we know some Americans are finding it harder and harder to balance the demands of work and family. People are working more jobs and longer hours than ever before, forcing many of them to make the unacceptable choice between being good workers and the best parents or caregivers.
Today I want to speak with you about important new steps we're taking to give working Americans the time off they need to care for their families without losing the income they need to support them.
According to a recent Federal study, parents in the average family now have 22 fewer hours per week to spend at home than they did just a generation ago. That's the loss of nearly a full day to spend time with their families. And the percentage of married mothers working outside the home has nearly doubled, from 38 to 68 percent, over the last three decades.
We also know that many of them are working weekends or on the night shift, times they've traditionally spent at home caring for their families. In our round-the-clock economy, there just doesn't seem to be enough hours during the day for working Americans to do everything they need to.
For more than 7 years now, our administration has taken action to give families the flexibility they need to balance the demands of work and home. We've helped make child care safer, better, and more affordable for millions of families. We've greatly expanded preschool and after-school programs. We fought to give generous tax credits to help the growing number of families who provide care for aging and ailing loved ones at home.
I'm especially proud that the very first bill I signed as President was the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since 1993, more than 20 million Americans have used it to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or sick relative without fear of losing their jobs. Still there are too many families that aren't making use of the law because they simply can't afford to take the time off if it means sacrificing a paycheck.
Today I'm announcing two new steps that will allow working Americans to take time off they need to care for their families without giving up the pay they need to support them.
First, I'm pleased to announce that States will soon have the option to use funds from their unemployment insurance programs to provide paid leave to new parents following the birth or adoption of a child. While this initiative is totally voluntary, there are already 15 States considering legislation to provide paid leave through unemployment insurance or other means. In fact, Massachusetts may vote on such a bill in the next few weeks.
In this strong economy, I hope more States will take advantage of this new option, and I believe those which do can provide this new benefit while still preserving the fiscal soundness of their unemployment insurance programs. The first few months with a newborn are precious ones, and no parent should have to miss them.
Second, we all know record numbers of Americans are providing for aging or ailing loved ones at home. It's a loving but potentially very expensive choice. That's why, beginning later this month, all Federal employees will be able to take up to 12 weeks paid sick leave that they've earned to nurse an ailing child or parent back to health. If every company in America followed this example, half of all our workers would have this important benefit for their families.
There are further steps we should take right away to help more parents balance work and family. Again, I call on Congress to extend the benefits of family and medical leave to employees of smaller companies, so we can reach another 12 million American families. And I urge Congress to pass my comprehensive long-term care initiative, which includes a $3,000 tax credit to meet the growing needs of the elderly and their families.
At the dawn of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt said, "The greatest prizes of life are those connected to the home." Today, more than a century later, our families still are our most valued treasures. That's why I think no American should ever have to choose between the job they need and the parent or child they love. The actions we take today will help to ensure that they won't have to make that choice.
Thanks for listening.