Raising Expectations, a report released today by the National Partnership for Women & Families, analyzes state laws and regulations governing paid and unpaid leave in the United States and assigns grades to 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report determined that half the states are doing little or nothing beyond what federal law requires to ensure that workers don’t have to risk their pay or their jobs when they need time off to care for a new child or a sick family member, recover from illness, or seek health care services.
Raising Expectations finds that, 25 years after the federal government enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), half of states have done little or nothing to expand on its baseline protection of unpaid leave or adopted policies to safeguard workers’ economic security when personal or family health needs arise or when a new child is born or adopted. The report warns that, with people having children later in life and our nation aging rapidly, the country’s failure to design its workplace policies to allow working people to meet their personal and family caregiving responsibilities will become an even more debilitating problem in the years ahead.
The report’s grades are based on whether and to what extent state laws help people manage their work, health and care needs by guaranteeing workers access to paid or unpaid workplace leave beyond the unpaid leave for serious personal or family health issues that the FMLA provides. It finds:
- Not a single state earns a grade of “A+.”
- Only six states — California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington state — plus the District of Columbia earn a grade of “A” or “A-.”
- Just six states receive grades in the “B” range, with Connecticut and Oregon each receiving a “B+.”
- Thirteen states receive grades in the “C” range.
- Fully half the states (25) earn grades in the “D” range (16 states) or “F” (nine states) because they are doing little or nothing to offer additional protections to working families. The nine failing states are Alabama, Idaho, Michigan*, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
“Millions of families face a heartbreaking choice between job and family when illness strikes or a new child comes,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership. “Families of color and low-income and working-class families are harmed the most by work/family conflicts. We are highly encouraged by the states that earn high grades in this report, all of which are demonstrating that paid family and medical leave programs, paid sick days laws and expanded unpaid leave help support workers, families and the economy. But it is disturbing that lawmakers in half the states have taken little or no meaningful action to advance family friendly policies. Their failure to act damages businesses, our economy and the public’s health. We need every state to step up, and we urgently need Congress to adopt a strong national paid family and medical leave program like the Family And Medical Insurance (FAMILY) Act, which is modeled on successful state programs; the Healthy Families Act, a national paid sick days standard; and a more expansive FMLA.”
The report’s call for national action is supported by the vast majority of voters. A national survey, conducted in July by PerryUndem and Bellwether Research & Consulting for the National Partnership, finds that four in five voters — including seven in 10 Republicans — believe the FMLA should be updated, and equal shares support a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all people who work. Voters across parties and demographic groups support a program that covers child and elder care and personal medical leave and is paid for by employers and employees.
“The states that earn high grades in our new study are paving the way for the national change our country needs,” said National Partnership Vice President Vicki Shabo. “But most states are not doing nearly enough to allow working people to care for ourselves and our loved ones. Access to paid leave should not depend on where we live or work or what job we hold. Public demand for paid leave solutions is high, and lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are taking notice. All lawmakers must commit to strengthening existing family friendly policies and adopting new ones — and we need strong federal laws that benefit all workers, families and businesses while strengthening our economy.”
Previous versions of this report, then titled Expecting Better, were released in 2005, 2012, 2014 and 2016 and graded states for their laws supporting new and expecting parents. This year’s report expands on this by grading states on laws that help all working people: new parents; people who are caring for seriously ill, injured or disabled family members; and workers addressing their own health needs. The expanded focus reflects the fact that workers need access to policies that help them manage their work and caregiving responsibilities throughout their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
The grades are based on whether states have enacted laws in one or more of the following categories:
- More expansive unpaid leave to address family and medical needs;
- Paid sick time for routine short-term personal or family health needs;
- Paid family and medical leave for more serious longer-term family or medical health needs; and
- Requirements that the sick time employers provide voluntarily also be available to workers who need to care for a sick family member.
The full study is available, along with state-specific graphics, at NationalPartnership.org/RaisingExpectations.
* Michigan legislators adopted a paid sick days law after this report was finalized, but they did so to prevent voters from considering the issue on the ballot this November; key legislators have expressed an intent to significantly weaken or repeal the law after the November elections.
About the National Partnership
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. Based in Washington, D.C., the organization drafted and led the fight to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act. More information is available at NationalPartnership.org.