A new state-by-state analysis released two days before the 23rd anniversary of the day the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) took effect shows that few states have expanded upon the FMLA’s unpaid leave protections or adopted other policies to help expecting and new parents who are employed. Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help Expecting and New Parents is the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and other workplace rights for expecting and new parents in the United States.
The analysis was conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families. The full study grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on their passage of select laws that offer greater leave or workplace protections than federal law provides. California is the only state to receive an “A.” The District of Columbia and New York earn grades of “A-” and 11 states earn grades of “B.” However, 10 states earn grades of “C,” 15 states earn grades of “D,” and 12 states receive grades of “F” for failing to enact a single workplace policy to help expecting or new parents.
“Despite some meaningful progress, too many working families in this country struggle at the very time they should be focused on giving children their best possible starts in life. Twenty-three years after the country took its first major step to help people manage job and family by implementing a national unpaid family and medical leave law, our new study reveals that people in too few states are guaranteed access to paid leave and other workplace protections they urgently need,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, which drafted and led the fight for the FMLA. “At this time when women are both caregivers and breadwinners, and when voters want and need supportive workplace policies, too many lawmakers are letting them down. America’s families expect and deserve much better.”
The poor grades are striking, Ness continued, considering women make up nearly half of the country’s workforce and 68 percent of children live in households in which all parents are employed. Similar workforce participation and demographic data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia can be found here. As Expecting Better argues, the nation’s public policies have not kept pace with the changing demographics and pressures affecting families, workplaces and our economy today – and low-wage parents and parents of color suffer disproportionately.
Public support for family friendly policies like paid family and medical leave, paid sick days and pregnancy accommodations is strong, as is voters’ favorable opinion of elected officials who advance them. A growing body of evidence shows that these policies promote the health and economic security of families while strengthening businesses and the economy. Yet the new study finds that lawmakers in most states have done too little or nothing to expand upon minimum federal protections. However, 11 states and the District of Columbia did improve their grades since the 2014 edition of Expecting Better.
The first edition of Expecting Better was released in 2005. As the fourth edition, released today, notes, over the past 11 years key workplace policies have been adopted in:
- New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, which joined California in enacting paid family leave programs;
- California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia, which enacted laws guaranteeing workers the right to earn paid sick days;
- Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, which expanded workers’ access to unpaid, job-protected family and medical leave;
- Maine, Maryland and Minnesota, which expanded workers’ access to flexible use of sick time;
- Twelve states and the District of Columbia, which passed laws requiring employers to provide pregnant women with reasonable workplace accommodations; and
- At least 10 states and the District of Columbia, which have enacted laws to protect the rights of nursing mothers in the workplace.
“Our new study shows that progress is possible, and it is wonderful that some states are showing real leadership by establishing standards that provide vitally important help to workers and families while helping pave the way for national change,” explained National Partnership Vice President Vicki Shabo. “But sadly, most states are not doing nearly enough. People’s ability to meet the dual demands of job and family should not depend on where they live or work or what job they hold. Lawmakers at all levels and in every part of the country should commit to strengthening existing family friendly policies and adopting new ones, and pressing for federal laws that will benefit all workers, families and businesses while strengthening our economy.”
At the national level, attention to and backing for policies that support expecting and new parents has increased significantly in recent years. Hundreds of diverse organizations, including the National Partnership, are calling on Congress to pass federal legislation such as the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program; the Healthy Families Act, which would set a paid sick days standard; and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would help combat pregnancy discrimination.
This most recent edition of Expecting Better highlights the impact that access to paid family and medical leave in particular can have on the health and well-being of expecting and new parents, as well as their children, families, employers and local economies. The United States is one of only a few countries among the 185 surveyed by the International Labor Organization that do not guarantee paid leave: 183 other nations guarantee paid maternity leave and 79 guarantee paid paternity leave. It is also the only high-wealth country that doesn’t provide paid maternity leave. Expecting Better finds that just four states guarantee paid family leave for expecting and new parents who work in the private sector.
To determine the state grades included in this edition of Expecting Better, the National Partnership reviewed different but overlapping public policies aimed at helping new parents in each state and the District of Columbia. Researchers looked at laws governing both private and public sector employees. The study includes a special section on state policies that more broadly help family caregivers – both parents and workers overall – in addressing their families’ needs. It is available in its entirety, along with state-specific graphics, at NationalPartnership.org/ExpectingBetter.