Protecting Workers, Nurturing Families: Building an Inclusive Family Leave Insurance Program

Setty, Suma; Skinner, Curtis; Wilson-Simmons, Renee

Problem Statement: New Jersey is one of three states in the United States that has implemented a paid family leave insurance (FLI) program for workers to bond with their children or care for ill family members. Yet, out a state population of more than 8.8 million, only 158,000 claims were approved in the first five years since the program began in 2009. To date, however, there has been no in-depth exploration into workers’ leave taking behavior, nor how the New Jersey Family Leave Insurance program affected families who did receive state family leave insurance. Motivation: A growing body of research demonstrates the positive outcomes associated with longer amounts of time that women stay at home with their newborns before returning to work. Despite this evidence, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid parental leave to care for a new child or attend to important family needs. Explorations into how family leave insurance programs affect the health, economic security, and well-being of low-income families can inform the development of evidence-based statewide and/or federal paid leave programs. Approach: Researchers recruited 42 low-income fathers and mothers in Newark, Camden, and Trenton, New Jersey to participate in focus groups and in-depth interviews. Groups were separated by gender and whether or not they took up family leave insurance after welcoming a child to their families. The research team analyzed transcripts from focus groups and interviews using Atlas.ti to organize major themes. By comparing the experiences of parents who took up leave with those who have not, we gained insight into the barriers to FLI program take up by low-income workers in New Jersey and how it affects those who did utilize FLI. Brief Results: Among those who did not utilize FLI, barriers included a lack of awareness, lack of employer support, concerns about job security, and confusion over eligibility. For those that did take it up, while they experienced difficulty navigating the application process, FLI allowed them to bond with their babies shortly after their birth with additional financial assistance to pay expenses while taking leave. Recommendations to increase FLI take up include increased investment in program outreach and administrative capacity. Conclusions: New Jersey’s FLI program has benefited low-income parents in allowing them to take leave from work to bond with their newborns, but program administration needs improvement in order to meet their needs. Improving internal efficiency to process applications and increasing awareness has the potential to increase FLI take up and improve the economic security and well-being of low-income parents and their children. More evaluations of current paid family leave programs can inform national efforts to ensure that families do not have to go without a source of income while caring for a newborn or ill family member.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
National Center for Children in Poverty
National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University
Published Here
May 17, 2016