February 5, 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). Since then, FMLA has been used millions of times by eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks of job protected, but unpaid, leave in a calendar year, for their own serious health conditions; pregnancy and bonding with a new child; or caring for seriously ill children, parents, or spouse. To be eligible, an individual must have a) worked at least 12 months, b) for a minimum of 1,250 hours per year, and c) for an establishment with 50 or more employees in a 75 mile radius. These criteria leave about 40 percent of the workforce without any legal protections when they need to take leave.[1]

While the law has been expanded somewhat in the intervening 25 years, the available leave under FMLA remains unpaid. About two-thirds of workers do receive some pay while on family and medical leave, often as paid vacation leave, sick leave, or other “paid time off” time.[2] Nearly half of workers (46 percent), however, reporting unmet need for leave say they could not afford to take unpaid time. In addition, four in ten workers taking leave go back to work before they are ready because they cannot afford more time away from their jobs.[3]

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) bills were reintroduced in both the House (H.R. 947) and the Senate (S. 337) in February 2017. The FAMILY Act would provide workers with partial wage replacement for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for a pregnancy, the birth or adoption of a child, to recover from a serious illness, or to care for a seriously ill family member. The FAMILY Act would be paid for through small employer and employee contributions and the benefits would be completely portable across employers.

This fact sheet updates the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) cost estimate for the FAMILY Act using the most recent version of the IWPR/ACM simulation model. The 2012 FMLA Survey conducted by Abt Associates, under contract to the U.S. Department of Labor, is used for estimating the occurrence and leave behaviors around qualifying family events experienced by U.S. workers. The model simulates specific leave-taking behavior (including number, length, benefit eligibility, and benefit receipt) onto individual employees using data from the Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Surveys (ACS).  The assumptions of the simulation model are that the worker would choose the compensation (employer provided wages or program benefits) that is most advantageous for herself or himself.


Table 1 shows the simulation model results for annual usage and costs of the FAMILY Act. There are nearly 8 million family and medical leave insurance claims estimated to be paid each year. Most of these (58 percent) would be for workers’ own serious health conditions, 31 percent for parents of new children, and 11 percent to care for family members (children after the first year, parents, or spouses).