National Partnership for Women & Families

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Vicki Shabo, Vice President

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We Cannot Remain a Nation of Paid Leave Haves and Have-Nots

September 26, 2016 | Work and Family > Paid Leave

Cross-posted from Medium.

Establishing or improving paid leave policies is a trend among major companies these days. Just this week, a New York restaurant chain, Union Square Group, announced a new parental leave policy for all of its employees. And earlier this month, Deloitte announced a comprehensive family leave plan that recognizes the range of family care needs. Whether companies make these policy changes because it’s the right thing to do or because they recognize paid leave as a way to compete and recruit and retain top talent, these advances are good news.

But new data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last week illustrate how far we still have to go. Despite the flurry of policy changes among high-profile companies, advances at the state and local levels and heightened demand for paid family and medical leave among voters, elected officials and candidates, for the vast majority of people, more has stayed the same than has changed in the past two years.

According to the new data, just 13 percent of private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employers — a one percentage point increase since 2014 — and private sector workers’ access to paid medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance is stuck at 40 percent. It’s great that more workers have paid family leave, and that progress must continue. But it is unacceptable that 99 million private sector workers are still struggling without this basic protection.

What’s more, even recent gains have failed to significantly increase access for the very workers who most need the financial stability paid leave provides. The data reveal deep and concerning divides by full- and part-time status, wage level, employer size, occupation, industry and more. Just look at these disparities in access to paid leave for those in the private sector workforce:

  • 16 percent of full-time workers, compared to 5 percent of part-time workers. Sixteen percent of full-time workers have paid family leave — an increase of one percentage point since 2015 — compared to an unchanged 5 percent of part-time workers.
  • 23 percent of highest-paid workers, compared to 6 percent of lowest-paid workers. Six percent of the lowest-paid workers (those paid $11.64 or less per hour) have access to paid family leave, compared to 23 percent of the highest-paid workers — an increase of one percentage point each since 2015. 
  • 23 percent of workers at large businesses, compared to 9 percent of workers at smaller businesses. Nine percent of workers employed at businesses with fewer than 50 employees have access to paid family leave, compared to 23 percent of workers employed at businesses with 500 or more employees — an increase of one percentage point each since 2015.
  • 22 percent of professional workers, compared to 7 percent of service workers. Twenty-two percent of those considered professional workers have paid family leave, compared to 19 percent in 2015. Access among service workers improved by one percentage point to just 7 percent.
  • More than 33 percent of those in the information and credit intermediation industries, compared to 6 percent of those in leisure and hospitality. The information and credit intermediation industries saw the biggest paid family leave gains since 2015 — from 30 percent to 33 percent and 31 percent to 34 percent, respectively. Access in the leisure and hospitality industry improved by one percentage point to just 6 percent.
  • 18 percent of workers in the mid-Atlantic, compared to 9 percent of those in the East South Central. The mid-Atlantic region has the highest paid family leave access rate in the country, increasing from 15 percent in 2015 to 18 percent now. Access increased in the Mountain West from 10 to 14 percent and in the East South Central region from 6 to 9 percent. Access in the South Atlantic actually declined, from 14 to 12 percent.

It’s clear we’re a nation of haves and have-nots with regard to paid leave right now — and it’s not getting better quickly enough to meet the needs of our nation’s working people or the children and older adults who rely on them.

That’s why we need a comprehensive, universal and affordable paid leave program like the one the federal Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would create. Private sector initiatives alone will not be enough to reach all the workers who need paid leave, and neither will state or local action alone. A national paid family and medical leave program would ensure all workers have time off and some income when serious illness strikes or a new child arrives, and it would benefit businesses and boost our economy.

The new BLS data show that there is a significant nationwide need for paid family and medical leave, and polling shows that voters nationwide want action. By overwhelming margins, likely 2016 voters agree that Congress should pass a national law like the FAMILY Act. It’s time — past time — for policymakers to listen and act.


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