Meghan Markle called on Congress to pass a federal paid parental leave program Wednesday in an open letter in which the Duchess of Sussex said she “grew up on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler.”
In the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Los Angeles-born Markle said the COVID-19 pandemic had “exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities.”
“At an alarming rate, millions of women dropped out of the workforce, staying home with their kids as schools and daycares were closed, and looking after loved ones full-time,” she wrote. “The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost.”
In reflecting on her own childhood, Markle said that she “knew how hard my parents worked” to afford Sizzler visits “because even at five bucks, eating out was something special, and I felt lucky. And as a Girl Scout, when my troop would go to dinner for a big celebration, it was back to that same salad bar or The Old Spaghetti Factory—because that’s what those families could afford to do too.”
After running down a list of odd jobs she worked beginning at the age of 13, Markle wrote: “Many of our economic systems are past their expiration date, and as you well know, too many Americans are forced to shortchange themselves when it comes to what matters to them.”
Markle and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex have two children, 2-year-old son Archie and daughter Lilibet Diana, who was born in June.
“Like any parents, we were overjoyed,” Markle wrote about the birth of her second child. “Like many parents, we were overwhelmed. Like fewer parents, we weren’t confronted with the harsh reality of either spending those first few critical months with our baby or going back to work. We knew we could take her home, and in that vital (and sacred) stage, devote any and everything to our kids and to our family.”
The Duchess insisted that “[p]aid leave should be a national right, rather than a patchwork option limited to those whose employers have policies in place, or those who live in one of the few states where a leave program exists.
“If we’re going to create a new era of family first policies, let’s make sure that includes a strong paid leave program for every American that’s guaranteed, accessible, and encouraged without stigma or penalty,” she added.
Currently, six states — including New York and New Jersey — offer some form of paid family leave, as does the District of Columbia. Three other states — Connecticut, Colorado and Oregon — have enacted paid family leave laws, but those policies have not gone into effect.
The massive $3.5 trillion social spending bill currently being debated by congressional Democrats includes a paid family and medical leave program, but the length of the benefit has not yet been finalized.
“I know how politically charged things can—and have—become,” Markle concluded. “But this isn’t about Right or Left, it’s about right or wrong. This is about putting families above politics. And for a refreshing change, it’s something we all seem to agree on. At a point when everything feels so divisive, let this be a shared goal that unites us.”
Since stepping away from royal duties in early 2020, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have immersed themselves in left-wing politics. They implicitly endorsed Joe Biden for president last year and accused a senior British royal family member of racism in a much-watched March interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Earlier this month, the couple announced that they had been named “impact partners” at Ethic, an asset management firm that helps investors screen companies on so-called social responsibility criteria, including racial justice, climate and labor issues.