California Passes the Nation’s Paid Family Leave Test

by | Feb 3, 2011 | Paid Leave

More than eight years ago, California lawmakers showed a historic commitment to working families in their state by establishing the nation’s first paid family leave program. Earlier this month, six-and-a-half years after the program was implemented, the results of its test are in—and they send a compelling message to employers, workers and lawmakers throughout the country.

Here’s what we know. On January 12th, Dr. Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Dr. Ruth Milkman, professor of sociology at City University of New York, released Leaves That Pay. These two esteemed researchers conducted a two-year survey of 253 California employers and 500 California residents who needed time away from work to care for a new child or ill family member. It found that an overwhelming majority of employers and workers are seeing benefits from California’s program—proving that the most common objections to paid leave policies throughout the country no longer apply.

What does it mean? That the sky-is-falling anti-leave arguments the business community has long been using—increased costs, decreased productivity, employee abuse, and a disproportionate burden on small businesses—are bogus. This new report reveals that nearly 87 percent of employers in California have experienced no significant cost increases as a result of the state’s paid leave program. What’s more, 89 percent or more have experienced an unnoticeable or positive effect on productivity, profitability, and turnover. Less than 10 percent knew of any employee abuse. And contrary to pre-passage claims, small businesses were less likely than larger businesses to report negative effects from the program.

Paid family leave is about supporting working families, and now we know that California’s program has been successfully doing that—particularly for those working parents in “low-quality” jobs that pay less than $20 per hour and offer no health care benefits. Ninety-one percent of them report that taking paid leave to bond with a new child had a positive effect on their ability to care for their family. Women have been able to double the length of time they breastfeed, which promotes good health for both mother and child. Data from the California Employment Development Department show that men’s use of paid leave to bond with a new child has been increasing steadily since the start of the program. These are real improvements for working families in California.

No new mother should have to worry about rushing back to work after giving birth. No new father should have to choose between his job and caring for his child. And no working adult should have to send his or her older parent to a costly institution or watch them suffer from lack of proper care because they can’t take time off to provide care.

But tens of millions of workers in this country struggle with these very decisions as they try to plan and provide for their families without paid family leave. With more and more families depending on at least two incomes, we need policies that address the realities of our times.

Fortunately, momentum for state paid family leave programs is building. Since the start of California’s program, New Jersey has established a paid leave program. Washington passed legislation to create a program, but its implementation has been delayed due to lack of funding. This new report on California’s program proves that these policies are highly positive for both businesses and workers.

California’s pioneering paid leave program was a test for this country. Given the compelling evidence in this substantial and significant report, it is clear that program passed the test—with flying colors. Now, the responsibility shifts to other states and the federal government to follow California’s lead.