It’s Time for Paid Family and Medical Leave


Tuesday, February 5, marks the 20th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, passed with bipartisan support in Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.  In the 20 years since passage, the FMLA has been used more than 100 million times by women and men who needed a family or medical leave.

Yet, as we celebrate what the FMLA has achieved, we need to recognize that it was always intended as an important first step in making it possible for people to be responsible employees and good parents and family members. Much unfinished business must still be addressed if the FMLA is to live up to its promise. Most non-college educated workers and others in jobs with low pay and status lack access to employer-provided disability insurance or paid family leave.  The result is that millions of Americans are regularly forced to choose between economic security and providing vital care for their families.

In Unfinished Business, a forthcoming book coauthored with Ruth Milkman, we examine employer and employee experiences with California’s paid family leave program. The fears of business groups that it would impose a financial burden on employers and would lead to fraudulent claims and abuse proved to be unwarranted. Our 2010 survey of California employers found that 87 percent reported that the PFL program had not resulted in any cost increases; some reported cost savings by reducing employee turnover and/or reducing their own benefit costs when they coordinated generous company benefits with the state program.  Nine out of ten employers – including small business owners – reported either positive effects of no effect of PFL on business operations (see Table 1). As for abuse, 91 percent of employers were aware of no abuse by their employees, and among the other 9 percent it was a relatively rare occurrence. About 61 percent of employees had a co-worker take a family leave and most took on additional tasks or hours to get the work done. Yet 94 percent reported that this had either no impact or a positive impact on them – with a quarter reporting a positive impact. Business fears about the effects of paid family leave on small businesses and on co-workers turned out to be unfounded.

For people, California’s PFL program has led to better economic, social, and health outcomes for those who have used it. Wage replacement levels were significantly higher for workers who used PFL than for those who did not, especially for workers in low-quality jobs (see Table 2). Moreover, workers in low-quality jobs who used PFL were more likely than those who did not use the program to return to the same employer after a family leave, were more satisfied with the length of their leave, were better able to care for newborns, and were better able to make child care arrangements.

Our findings suggest that programs which support workers when they need to care for their families can make a positive difference in the lives of people without imposing undue costs on employers, many of whom may actually benefit. The PFL and TDI programs in California and New Jersey provide path breaking and positive examples that can be replicated in other states and nationally.

Eileen Appelbaum is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

This article originally appeared on Economic Intelligence.

Eileen Appelbaum is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?
Barry Lando
Syria: Obama’s Bay of Pigs?
Karl Grossman
The Politics of Lyme Disease
Andre Vltchek
Southeast Asia “Forgets” About Western Terror
Jose Martinez
American Violence: Umpqua is “Routine”?
Vijay Prashad
Russian Gambit, Syrian Dilemma
Sam Smith
Why the Democrats are in Such a Mess
Uri Avnery
Nasser and Me
Andrew Levine
The Saints March In: The Donald and the Pope
Arun Gupta
The Refugee Crisis in America
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Elections and Verbal Vomit
Dan Glazebrook
Refugees Don’t Cause Fascism, Mr. Timmermann – You Do
Victor Grossman
Blood Moon Over Germany
Patrick Bond
Can World’s Worst Case of Inequality be Fixed by Pikettian Posturing?
Pete Dolack
Earning a Profit from Global Warming
B. R. Gowani
Was Gandhi Averse to Climax? A Psycho-Sexual Assessment of the Mahatma
Tom H. Hastings
Another Mass Murder
Anne Petermann
Activists Arrested at ArborGen GE Trees World Headquarters
Ben Debney
Zombies on a Runaway Train
Franklin Lamb
Confronting ‘Looting to Order’ and ‘Cultural Racketeering’ in Syria
Carl Finamore
Coming to San Francisco? Cra$h at My Pad
Ron Jacobs
Standing Naked: Bob Dylan and Jesus
Missy Comley Beattie
What Might Does To Right
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi Jayanti, Gandhi’s Dream
Raouf Halaby
A Week of Juxtapositions
Louis Proyect
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Iran
Christopher Washburn
Skeptik’s Lexicon
Charles R. Larson
Indonesia: Robbed, Raped, Abused
David Yearsley
Death Songs
Jon Hochschartner
Does Word Policing Actually Help the Left?