Paid Leave in the States: A Critical Support for Low-wage Workers and Their Families

Sarah Fass

Paid Leave in the States: A Critical Support for Low-wage Workers and Their Families
Fass, Sarah
National Center for Children in Poverty
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National Center for Children in Poverty
Publisher Location:
New York
Millions of working families experience a day-to-day struggle to make ends meet — nearly 40% of America's children live in low-income families. When these families experience a major life event, such as having a baby or taking care of a family member with a serious illness, their already fragile financial situation can be further jeopardized. With recent social and demographic shifts — including the increased participation of women in the labor force and the aging of the population — balancing work obligations with family responsibilities has become more and more challenging for all families. Low-wage workers can find this balancing act especially difficult as they are more likely to work in jobs with few benefits and limited flexibility and they have fewer financial resources at their disposal. Everyone loses when families are forced to make tough compromises, and consequences for children's healthy development can be especially troubling. Current public policies in the United States do not adequately support workers striving to meet the obligations of work and family. For instance, the U.S. is one of four nations that do not guarantee paid time-off to new mothers; the other countries that similarly provide no guarantee are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave from employment for major life events, but coverage is far from universal, and many cannot afford to take time-off from work without pay. Low-wage workers, in particular, would benefit from expanded paid leave policies, as they are less likely to be covered by the federal policy and are in greater need of pay during time-off from work for major life events. A handful of states have enacted policies that provide partially paid leave under certain circumstances. This brief begins by discussing research on the benefits of family leave and describing the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. It then examines the strengths and limitations of existing state-level policies, with a focus on California, which in 2002 became the first state to enact paid family leave. Finally, the brief concludes with recommendations for state policymakers considering paid family leave, with an emphasis on how these policies could be crafted to best serve the needs of low-wage workers and their families.
Public health
Child development
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Suggested Citation:
Sarah Fass, , Paid Leave in the States: A Critical Support for Low-wage Workers and Their Families, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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