Significant changes in workforce demographics have led to increased need for family-friendly workplace policies that enable workers to better balance the responsibilities of family, health and career. But absent new public standards and programs, private employers have responded slowly. Paid leave benefits have generally been limited to those workers with the greatest bargaining power, either because of training and skills or representation by a labor union.
As women and mothers have joined the workforce, families have become increasingly reliant on women’s earnings. In 1975, husbands were the sole breadwinner while wives were stay-at-home moms in 45% of families with children. By 2008, only 21% of families had this arrangement. Now, about four in ten moms are the primary breadwinners for their families.
While few workers have a designated paid family leave benefit, many do have limited amounts of paid leave available as vacation, sick leave, or paid time off. However, access to paid leave benefits varies across the labor force.
Little more than half of the U.S. workforce with earnings in the bottom 25% has access to paid vacation leave, and just 32% have paid sick leave. Access to paid family leave is especially limited – just one in 25 workers with earnings in the bottom 10% receives paid family leave benefits, compared to one in five with earnings in the top 10%. Similarly, only 5% of part-time workers in the U.S. had access to paid family leave in 2012, versus 14% of full-time workers.
Workers with higher levels of education are more likely to have jobs that pay higher wages and offer benefits, including paid leave. Research by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 66% of first-time mothers with a college degree were able to take some form of paid leave after the birth of a child in 2006-08, versus just 19% of women without a high school diploma. This disparity has increased over the last decade.
Although a number of factors contribute to the earnings gap, many women experience what is known as the “motherhood penalty” – women with children have more difficulty getting hired and are more likely to be offered lower pay than other women and men with equivalent qualifications.
Notably, disparities in pay begin to increase as women reach child-bearing age. As they move into sandwich years, when they are caring for children and elders at the same time, the earnings gap continues to widen because women are less likely to receive promotions and accompanying pay raises.
For women working full-time, paid sick and vacation leave have become more available for situations when a few days of leave is needed. However, sick and vacation leave are usually short-term and insufficient for serious health or family issues.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that more than half of first-time mothers used some form of paid leave after the birth of their first child between 2006 and 2008. More than a third of these women used a combination of leave, including paid vacation and sick days to spend time recovering from childbirth and caring for their newborns.
While new mothers continue to file the majority of bonding claims in the two states with universal paid family leave programs, the programs have been shown to increase the proportion of claims filed by new fathers. In California, the percentage of bonding claims filed by men increased from 17% in 2004-05, when the program was implemented, to 26% in 2009-10. Many managers have also reported increases in duration of leave taken by new dads.
On average, the likelihood of a new father taking paid leave increased from 61% in 2004 to 86% in 2009.
Excerpted from Evaluating Family and Medical Leave Insurance for Washington State Last updated 01/14/2013