A new state-by-state analysis released for Mother’s Day shows how little the nation supports and protects employed mothers and fathers when a new child arrives. The report, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, is the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and workplace rights for new parents in the United States. It finds that no state is doing all it could to support new parents.
The analysis was conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families. The full report, which includes grades for all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on the enactment of select laws that expand upon federal leave and workplace protections, can be found here. Expecting Better gave only California and Connecticut grades of “A-.” Eight states earned a grade of “B;” seven states earned a grade of “C;’ and 14 states earned a grade of “D.” Eighteen states received failing grades for having enacted no leave or other workplace policies at all to help new parents who are in the workforce, beyond the protections provided by federal law.
“The birth of a child should be a joyous event for new mothers and fathers, not the cause of financial hardship or devastation,” said National Partnership President Debra L. Ness. “Sadly, as this report shows, tens of millions of working parents throughout the country have no access to paid leave when a child is born and few if any other workplace protections beyond the minimum standards set by federal law. At a time when the majority of women are both caregivers and breadwinners, America’s families expect and deserve much better.”
The poor grades are striking considering women now make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States, and 71 percent of U.S. children live in families where all parents work. More than four million U.S. women gave birth in the 2009-2010 year alone (the most recent data available). Without access to some wages and job security, these workers and families often have no choice but to sacrifice much-needed income or their jobs when a new child arrives. This causes them to risk both their economic security and their health.
Past research, including two recent studies commissioned by the National Partnership, shows that paid leave promotes the health and economic security of families, reduces reliance on public assistance programs, and benefits businesses through improved worker loyalty and reduced turnover. Despite these benefits, Expecting Better finds that no state has done all it could to provide paid family and medical leave and other supportive policies for new parents.
“Some states are doing better for new parents than others,” explained Ness, “but most have a long way to go to fully protect the economic security and health of working families — and it is well documented that it is in their interest to do so. Lawmakers at the state and federal levels should take a close look at this study, the needs of working families, and the success of paid leave programs like those in California and New Jersey. It is critical that lawmakers take action to protect parents so they can keep their jobs and care for their families when babies come.”
At the national level, the Obama administration has proposed a state paid leave fund that would help foster state innovation and support states that want to create their own paid leave programs. Right now, only California and New Jersey have paid leave insurance programs that guarantee workers access to the time they need when a new child arrives or a family member needs care. Some members of Congress who recognize the struggles families face are working on a proposal for a national paid leave insurance program, which would establish a national standard and greatly increase access to paid leave for America’s families.
The United States is one of few countries in the world that does not guarantee its citizens access to paid leave; paid leave for new mothers is guaranteed in 178 other nations, and 54 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted nearly 20 years ago, provides new parents up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but only about half of the workforce is eligible and many cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides.
To determine the state grades included in Expecting Better, the National Partnership reviewed different, but overlapping public policies aimed at helping new parents in each state and the District of Columbia. It looked at laws governing both private sector and public sector state employees.
Released for Mother’s Day, Expecting Better is the most comprehensive assessment of state and federal policies that help new parents. The full report is available at www.NationalPartnership.org/ExpectingBetter.