Giving Leave To Families

If you're having trouble getting paid time off to care for a new addition to the family, you might like what President Clinton told the graduating class Sunday at Grambling State University in Louisiana.

In the first of three commencement addresses he will give this season, the president discussed a favorite concern of him: The problems Americans face in coping with the competing demands of job and family, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

A new report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers said Sunday that the amount of time parents have to spend with their children has declined by 22 hours per week, or 14 percent, since 1969, due mainly to more mothers working more hours for pay and to an increase in single-parent families.

Over the course of a childhood, that amounts to two years less time parents spend with their kids.

There's not much the president can do about that. But he did announce plans to let states use the unemployment insurance system to support parents who take leave to care for a newborn or adopted child.

The president also said he was ordering the federal government to greatly expand the amount of sick leave its employees can draw on to take care of an ailing family member. The move was aimed at spurring private companies to offer the same benefits, he said.

Speaking to the graduates of the historically black university, Mr. Clinton cited examples of class members whose parents had sacrificed to send them to school, and told the students that raising children, "whenever that happens, will be the most important work that you will ever do."

"As you form your own families you will no doubt feel the pressure of trying to balance the demands of work and family," he said. "Today's working parents too often feel enormous stress and bring the stress home with them."

A lesson of last month's Littleton, Colorado school shootings, beyond a need to control guns and make the culture less violent, was "also to make the bonds that tie parents to children stronger," he said.

Mr. Clinton also said the government would allow its employees to take up to 12 weeks of accumulated sick leave per year to take care of a family member, up from 13 days now allotted to most federal employees.

"If every company in American that offers sick leave to its workers adopted the same policy we're adopting today, half of the American work force would have this important benefit for their families," he said.

The expansion would cost the government about $60 million a year, a U.S. official said. She estimated that about 0.5 per cent of the federal work force would use the full 12 weeks of benefits allowed under the new policy.