A common topic of conversation around our office the past few months has been….babies! Two members of our team welcomed adorable new additions to their families recently, and lawmakers in Harrisburg welcomed a public hearing on the Family Care Act (FCA) last week. The FCA proposes a mandated state-paid leave allowing eligible workers to earn up to 90 percent of their income for up to 20 weeks when caring for themselves or a family member, including a new child.
And it’s not just in our office or at our state capital that conversation is abuzz. Nationally, states are beginning to take notice of the economic and social benefits of paid family leave — and instead of waiting on federal legislation, they’re taking action. Nine states so far — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C. — have some form of state-paid family leave policy. And more — including our own Pennsylvania — are looking to join the club.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17% of all civilian workers had access to paid family leave in 2018. But if you’re not a parent or soon-to-be parent yourself — why should you care?
1. Paid Leave is Good for Babies
Evidence suggests that mothers who receive paid leave are more likely to breastfeed and to do so longer, which positively impacts babies’ health. Paid leave is also associated with decreased infant mortality and morbidity, and an improvement in overall and mental health among mothers. And let’s not forget about dads. Paid family leave allows for more father-baby bonding, and increases paternal engagement in childcare activities.
2. Paid Leave is Good for Employees
Taking unpaid leave is not an option for many new parents. And how nonsensical — just when families are experiencing a large increase in their cost of living, with the addition of a baby, they are experiencing unpaid leave and potential job loss. State-funded family leave programs can help to combat this loss of income. Additionally, research by the Urban Institute shows that paid family leave programs increase the likelihood that mothers will return to work after having a baby, improving labor market attachment and long-term earnings.
3. Paid Leave is Good for Business
Paid family leave reduces employee turnover and increases employee satisfaction. And state-funded leave is adaptable to the changing labor market and the future of work — under such a model, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and members of the “gig” economy would all have access to family leave without needing to shoulder an unfair burden of the cost.
4. Paid Leave is Good for Equity
People of color, workers with less education, and low-wage workers are significantly less likely to have access to paid leave. Particularly for women of color, existing health and economic disparities — caused by past and present institutionalized racism — are compounded by a lack of available paid family leave. Equitable leave policies can begin to turn the tide on historically unjust policies.
Paid leave is just one piece of the economic puzzle of child-bearing and -rearing. But it’s a critical consideration for employees engaging in — and staying engaged in — the labor force, ultimately contributing to long-term, equitable economic growth.
Stay tuned for more on the puzzle pieces of child (economic) development, as our own new parents return from their — paid — family leave!