“It is very disappointing yet not surprising that there is so little progress reflected in the new paid leave data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today. Just 15 percent of all workers now have access to paid family leave through their employers and 39 percent have paid personal medical leave through an employer’s short-term disability insurance program – improvements of just one percentage point each since last year. Among private sector workers, access to paid family leave is stuck at 13 percent and access to personal medical leave through short-term disability insurance has risen by just one percentage point to 41 percent. This means that, despite historic attention to the issue among business leaders and lawmakers, and significant progress in states and municipalities, access to paid leave in this country remains dismal. This is a clear reminder that actions speak louder than words.
Especially concerning are growing disparities in access to paid leave. The new data show that those who have gained access to paid leave since last year are working full time and are paid higher wages, employed by larger businesses and in professional occupations, although even most of those workers are without paid leave. Meanwhile, those most in need of paid leave have seen little to no gains and are being left far behind. Just 5 percent of part-time workers now have paid family leave, compared to 18 percent of full-time workers – a gap that has increased by two percentage points since last year. A miniscule 4 percent of the lowest-paid workers (those paid $10 or less per hour) have paid family leave, compared to 26 percent of the highest-paid workers – a gap increase of three percentage points. Ten percent of workers at smaller businesses (those with fewer than 50 employees) have paid family leave, compared to 24 percent of those who work at large businesses – a gap increase of two percentage points. And 9 percent of those working in the service sector have paid family leave, compared to 24 percent of professional workers – a gap increase of three percentage points since last year.
Fortunately, the data also show that public policies can help significantly. Mayors, city councils and governors have been taking action in recent years to provide paid parental or paid family leave to public employees. In fact, more than 50 cities and counties have established such policies in the past few years. These new data show that those actions are having a major impact – the number of local and state government workers with paid family leave jumped from 16 percent last year to 25 percent today, and access has increased at all wage levels and in all job types.
Other efforts to address the nation’s paid leave crisis are gaining strength across the country too, and state and local lawmakers and business leaders are making progress. Five states and the District of Columbia now have, or will soon have, paid family and medical leave programs in place – and three of them passed since April of last year. Major companies are also increasingly announcing new or expanded paid leave policies of their own. And demand for public paid leave policies is growing among voters, private sector businesses and leaders, lawmakers and scholars with diverse perspectives.
But these new data confirm that we have a long way to go, and that access to paid leave should not depend on a patchwork of local, state and employer policies. We all suffer when working people in this country cannot care for themselves or their loved ones when serious personal or family medical needs arise. We need a meaningful and inclusive national standard, such as the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which checks all the boxes required of a program that would truly support all working people, families, businesses and our economy. As a nation, our needs are too great and there is too much at stake to settle for proposals that fail this test and that would do more harm than good.”