“The data on U.S. workers’ access to paid family and medical leave released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is painful and, sadly, unsurprising. To see that still just 12 percent of private sector workers in this country have access to paid family leave through their employers, and only 40 percent have access to employer-provided short-term disability insurance, confirms that the vast majority of workers and families do not have the support they need. And despite progress at the state level, strong public demand and a growing body of evidence showing the widespread benefits of paid leave, policy changes have been slow or nonexistent.
Millions of people across the country are one accident, diagnosis or new child away from financial hardship or devastation because their employers do not provide paid family and medical leave, and these new data show that lower-wage workers are hit the hardest. Of workers who are paid $11.00 per hour or less, just five percent have paid family leave to care for a seriously ill loved one or new child, 16 percent have access to employer-provided short-term disability insurance for their own serious medical needs, and just 30 percent can earn paid sick days to recover from common illnesses. It’s a terrible shame that the very workers who need the financial stability paid leave provides the most are the least likely to have it.
These new data make clear that America’s working families cannot wait for access to paid family and medical leave to improve on its own. Lawmakers need to step up and take action to help. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are leading the way by establishing the nation’s only paid family leave programs, which build upon longstanding temporary disability insurance programs in place in those states and also in Hawaii, New York and Puerto Rico. And thanks to federal grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor this week, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Montana will soon be studying innovative ways to provide more workers with access to paid leave, and Rhode Island will be studying the effectiveness of its existing program.
But access to paid leave should not depend on where you work or live. That’s why Congress must prioritize the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. The FAMILY Act would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program modeled on state programs and ensure workers have the time and financial stability they need when serious illness strikes or new children arrive. It would also promote worker loyalty and productivity, level the playing field for smaller businesses, and boost our economy. In short, the FAMILY Act would finally bring the country’s workplace policies in line with the needs of families and the rest of the world. It is long overdue.”