World Reimagined

World Reimagined: The Value of Paid Family Leave

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As employers struggle to fill job openings, a lot of the recent focus has been on the minimum wage and worker salaries. That’s important, of course, but a new study shows there’s another factor that could greatly accelerate hiring.

The Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult found that 37% of unemployed Americans would return to work sooner if their employer offered paid family leave. Among unemployed caregivers, that jumps to 45%.

While it’s a fairly common practice in other countries, where it’s part of national policy, paid family leave is far less common in the U.S. Today, 79% of workers do not have access to paid family leave, while 60% do not have access to paid medical leave, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Nine states - California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington – along with the District of Columbia currently offer or will offer leave, but there’s no national policy. Internationally, over 120 nations offer it, with the Czech Republic offering 28 weeks of paid maternity leave. (The U.S. average is 10 weeks.)

“Americans want to work, and they want to have healthy families,” says Adrienne Schweer, Bipartisan Policy Center fellow. “This survey yet again shows that access to paid family leave may be the missing ingredient that allows millions of Americans to have both.”

Some 58% of the survey’s 2,200 respondents who had reduced their work hours during the pandemic said they would be more likely to increase their hours if their employer offered paid family leave. Among parents, that jumped to 78%.

The pandemic has emphasized the need for family care for many parents. Home schooling last year and the ongoing threat that schools will pivot to temporary virtual learning programs when COVID-19 outbreaks surge makes it more vital than ever that parents have more flexibility in their work schedules. Similarly, the number of people with family members that require caregiving has increased dramatically during the pandemic – and likely won’t slow down as the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers move into and through retirement.

The pandemic has given those people some protections. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act afforded emergency paid leave to qualifying families. The Biden administration, hoping that the bipartisan support that bill received will carry over, has proposed a national comprehensive paid leave program as part of the American Families Plan.

“Parental paid leave has been shown to keep mothers in the workforce, increasing labor force participation and boosting economic growth,” said the White House. “The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid leave. Nearly one in four mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth and one in five retirees left or were forced to leave the workforce earlier than planned to care for an ill family member.”

The proposal, if passed, will ultimately guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave and ensure workers get three days of bereavement leave per year out of the gate. Workers will receive up to $4,000 per month. The price tag came in at $225 billion over a decade.

Over the past year, 10.6 million people were forced from their jobs to attend to caregiving responsibilities, says the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). Another 11.7 million reduced their hours due to caregiving needs.

And of the people stopped working and decided to just not look for another job, as many as 11% said caregiving was the reason. The BPC estimates that be as many as 4.6 million workers who withdrew from the workforce during the pandemic, at least in part because their employer did not have caregiving options.

Meanwhile, the lack of paid leave options cost workers an average of $22.5 billion in lost wages per year, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). 

That has been especially hard on women, who have been more likely to leave their jobs as the pandemic has dragged on. And it’s even more pronounced when the focus is on child care issues. The CAP study found men saw lost wages of $299 million between 2209-2018 due to child care issues.

For women, the total was $8.3 billion.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including CNNMoney.com, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and CNBC.com.

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