New Research Series Outlines Affordability of National Paid Leave Policies

Press Release

A national paid leave policy could help young working mothers, a group least likely to have access to leave

A series of seven briefing papers analyzing worker leave behavior and estimating the costs and benefits of national paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave find that a national paid leave policy would benefit working women, younger workers, and workers of color and, depending on the policy alternative enacted, cost less than half of one percent of payroll.
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Washington, DC—A series of seven briefing papers analyzing worker leave behavior and estimating the costs and benefits of national paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave find that a national paid leave policy would benefit working women, younger workers, and workers of color and, depending on the policy alternative enacted, cost less than half of one percent of payroll.

The series, prepared by IMPAQ International, LLC, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) as part of a study funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, analyzes government data and estimates the costs of providing paid leave based on evidence of actual leave-taking behavior.

“These briefing papers are an important contribution to the literature on the socioeconomic impact of paid leave policies,” said economist and IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “As policymakers across the country consider paid leave policies, the findings in these briefing papers will help inform issues like who will take leave, how much leave they will take, and what providing leave will cost under a proposed plan.”

A description of each brief with a summary of key findings is below. The first three briefs used the Paid Leave Simulation Model developed by IWPR and the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and subsequently updated, to estimate the potential impact of national paid family and medical leave and national paid sick leave proposals. The other four briefs used regression analysis to identify statistically significant trends in leave-taking among working mothers, older workers, and FMLA-eligible workers.

Estimating Usage and Costs of Alternative Policies to Provide Paid Family and Medical Leave in the United States

This brief summarizes a simulation analysis of five different paid family and medical leave model programs selected to show a range of generosity of provision and based on working programs in three states (California 2002 legislation and 2016 revisions, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) and a federal proposal (the FAMILY Act), all applied to the national workforce. The analysis simulates worker behavior and estimates how many paid leaves would be taken under each model, the average weekly benefit level for each leave, and the total costs of the benefits paid.

  • –A national paid family and medical leave policy would increase workers’ leave taking, paid and unpaid, by 6 to 11 percent annually, depending on the model policy.
  • –Paid leaves taken would average from $428 per week to $493 per week, depending on the model program, all well below the maximum benefit available.
  • –Benefits under national paid leave policy models cost between 0.45 and 0.63 percent of payroll.
  • –Under all models nearly three-fourths of family and medical benefits paid out is for the worker’s own health; the share going to maternity and child bonding ranges from 13 to 23 percent depending on the model policy.

Estimating Usage and Costs of Alternative Policies to Provide Paid Sick Days in the United States

This brief explores the costs and benefits of alternative sick days policies applied at the national level: San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, the Vermont Act, and the proposed federal Healthy Families Act.

  • –Under three national paid sick days policies, paid and unpaid leaves taken increase from 9 to 13 percent.
  • –The cost of new paid sick days taken ranges from 0.10 to 0.29 percent of payroll across the three different models.
  • –Under all policies, workers take fewer than the maximum amount of paid sick days available.

Estimating the Distributional Impacts of Alternative Policies to Provide Paid Sick Days in the United States

This brief explores the distributional impact of three alternative policy models for providing paid sick days to U.S. workers taken from actual policies in the states (San Francisco and Vermont) and a federal proposal (Healthy Families Act).

  • –Depending on the reason for leave and the policy alternative, 12 to 17 percent of workers will receive new paid sick days, compared with current policy.
  • –A national paid sick days policy would benefit proportionately more women than men and proportionately more workers of color than white workers, compared with the current policy. Low-income workers and workers in the occupations and industries with the lowest current rates of providing sick days—including service occupations and the farming, fishing, and forestry occupations—would benefit the most from a national paid sick days policy.

Paid Leave and Employment Stability of First-Time Mothers

This brief finds a significant relationship between the use of paid leave and greater employment stability among first-time mothers.

  • –First-time mothers who utilized paid leave were 26.3% less likely to quit their jobs and were 18.2% more likely to work for the same employer after the birth of their first child.
  • –These findings suggest that (a) mothers that utilize paid leave benefits provided by their employer may experience a greater ability to balance their career and caregiving responsibilities, and (b) employers that offer paid leave benefits may be more likely to experience increased levels of employee retention, as first-time mothers who utilize paid leave are more likely to return to their job.

Qualifying for Unpaid Leave: FMLA Eligibility among Working Mothers

This brief explores the reasons and likelihood that working mothers take leave under the FMLA.

  • –About half (50.5 percent) of young mothers (age 18-34) are not eligible for unpaid, job-protected leave under FMLA, compared with 65.6 percent of those ages 45 to 54 (the age group of mothers with the highest eligibility) and 59.9 percent of non-mothers.
  • –Despite lower access to FMLA job-protected leave, young working mothers are more than twice as likely to take leave as older working mothers, suggesting that those who are most likely to need leave are the least likely to have it.

Family and Medical Leave-Taking among Older Workers

This brief examines the family and medical leave-taking behaviors among older workers aged 55 and older compared with younger workers.

  • –Older workers have increased their rates of family and medical leave-taking from 2000 to 2012 (from 16% to 21%). This increase is driven entirely by men, who increased their leave-taking by 10 percentage points from 2000 to 2012, while women’s rates remained the same.
  • –The majority (69%) of workers received at least partial pay for their longest family and medical leave. But the 31% of workers who took unpaid leave were more likely to be women, poorer, less educated, or younger than those who received at least partial pay.

The Effects of FMLA Eligibility and Awareness on Family Leave-Taking

This brief explores the effect of FMLA eligibility and awareness on whether workers take leave for FMLA-qualifying reasons, where workers typically learn about the FMLA, and which workers are less likely to be aware of the FMLA.

  • –Workers who are eligible and aware of FMLA are one and a half times more likely to take leave, compared to workers that were FMLA-eligible but unaware of the law
  • –The majority (56.6%) of U.S. workers who are both eligible and aware, learn about the FMLA from their employers or a human resource office.
  • –The analysis identified seven sub-populations of workers who are eligible for FMLA but lack critical awareness of the law’s benefits, including workers who did not graduate from high school, young workers age 18-24, low-income workers, workers of color, workers without access to paid leave, hourly workers, and those paid on commission.

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The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences.

IMPAQ International combines innovative thinking and rigorous approaches to evaluate and enhance health, education, labor, human services, and international development programs and policy.