Several states have adopted paid family leave policies as an important protection for the economic security of working families. After New Jersey implemented its own statewide policy in 2009, researchers from Rutgers decided to investigate how workers benefited from the change. They found paid leave is not only good for families, it’s better for businesses and leads to reduced use of public assistance:
- Women who take paid leave are more likely to be working one year after a child’s birth than those who do not take leave. This means that employers who invest in their workers ultimately benefit from reduced turnover. Recruiting and hiring new employees is far more costly than keeping the ones you already have.
- Both women and men who take paid leave are significantly less likely to utilize public assistance programs than those who do not take leave. Food stamps and other public assistance programs are necessary to protect the most economically vulnerable. But it makes sense to invest in programs that prevent poverty, too. Putting systems in place to best support our workforce ultimately reduces the extraordinary fiscal and social costs of poverty – something that benefits all members of our communities.
As more women have entered the workforce and the population has aged, increased numbers of workers have found themselves in situations that require an extended absence from work – whether to care for a new baby, an aging parent or a sick spouse.
The 1993 federal Family Medical Leave Act, ensured up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers to bond with a new child or care for sick family member. This legislation set an important workplace standard, but its reach is limited — extending only to companies with more than 50 employees and putting restrictions on which workers are able to access the benefit. And, of course, the leave is unpaid. While time to bond with a child or care for a family member is critical, the loss of income over an extended period of time is often impossible for families to manage.
To address the inadequacies of the federal policy, several states have crafted more extensive and inclusive policies to better meet the needs of working families. Currently, two states – California and New Jersey – have policies in place that offer family leave insurance as a component of their temporary disability insurance programs. Both offer up to six weeks of paid leave.
Washington, too, established a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program in 2007 to provide workers with up to 5 weeks of paid leave. However, the program has not been funded, and implementation has been pushed to 2015. In the meantime, advocates from the Washington Family Leave Coalition have been working to improve the legislation (including an increase to 6 weeks of paid leave) and update the funding mechanism.
Until Washington and other states can establish good policies to address the needs of working families, many will continue to struggle for economic security. Paid family leave is an important workplace benefit that ultimately extends far beyond workers – promoting healthy business, families and communities.
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