How The New Paid Family Leave Bill Will Benefit Everyone

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Father baby

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will introduce the FAMILY Act on Thursday, a bill that would ensure 12 weeks of paid leave a year for a new child, to take care of an ill family member, or to care for oneself.

While American workers are guaranteed 12 unpaid weeks of time off if they work at a company with 50 or more employees, the United States is one of a very small number of countries that doesn’t guarantee that mothers can take paid leave for a new child. Only 12 percent of workers have access to paid leave through their employers, and less than half are covered by the unpaid leave. Just three states have instituted paid family leave programs: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

Under the FAMILY Act, all workers would pay 0.2 percent of their wages into the program, about $2 a week on average. They then could then collect benefits equal to 66 percent of their typical monthly wages, capped at $1,000 a week.

While it may seem that family leave is just for new mothers, it would end up benefitting a wide swath of Americans — not to mention the economy itself.

Women: Without paid maternity leave, many women struggle to afford time off to take care of themselves and their newborns after the birth of a new child. Over 40 percent have to take unpaid leave, and a quarter either quit or are let go from their jobs when a new child arrives. Among those who receive only partial pay or no pay at all during leave, the financial hardship is clear: a third borrow money, dip into savings, and/or put off paying bills, and 15 percent even have to go on public assistance to get through. Paid leave will help new mothers and their families avoid these tough choices.

Paid family leave will also help women in another important way: it helps raise their wages. Generally speaking, working mothers make less than childless women. But if a woman gets 30 or more days of paid family leave, she is over 50 percent more likely than those who get no paid time off to see her wages increase.

Men: If few women have access to paid leave, even fewer men can take it. Only about 15 percent of men get paid leave through their employers. While 85 percent take leave when a new child arrives, three-quarters of them take just a week or less. But paid leave makes it easier for them to take time off. In California, only 35 percent of fathers took time off before the paid leave program, but now three-quarters take it. They also take more of it, taking an average of three weeks. The vast majority of men want to spend more time with their children and split parenting equally with their partners, and paid leave could be the key to helping them achieve those goals.

Children: When fathers take more leave, their children benefit. Fathers who take two or more weeks off after the birth of their child are more involved in the kid’s direct care nine months later than dads who didn’t take leave. Men who are better able to take paternity leave are more competent and committed later in their children’s lives.

Seniors: Family leave isn’t just to take care of children, though. As more Americans age, more need care. The number of Americans who rely on long-term care services will more than double by 2050, from 12 million to 27 million, and most rely on family members. But that can create a huge financial strain on the caregivers, 62 percent still have full-time jobs rather than taking unpaid leave. Making sure these caregivers are paid will not just make it easier for them to take care of their loved ones, but it will also allow more older Americans to stay in their homes instead of going to nursing homes, which is much more cost effective.

The economy: Research shows that paid family leave is likely to help keep people in the labor force and even expand it. Leave reduces the amount of time women spend out of the labor force by reducing the chances that they’ll have to quit their jobs. The U.S. has seen the opposite trend, however, with its rate of women in the labor force failing to keep up with developed peers thanks to a lack of paid leave. A growing labor force will, in turn, help grow the economy.

Paid leave also benefits the country’s employers by reducing turnover and employment interruptions while helping to ensure that workers who take leave go back to their original jobs. California’s program has been estimated to save employers $89 million a year in reduced turnover costs.