New data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today makes clear that tens of millions of workers at all wage levels and in every type of job and sector are being left behind when it comes to access to paid family leave. The data show that 17 percent of all workers now have access to paid family leave through their employers, an improvement of just two percentage points since last year. Over the past six years, paid family leave access for all workers has increased just five percentage points. Based on that rate of progress, it will take nearly 100 years for all workers to have this workplace protection. In addition, the share of the workforce with access to personal medical leave through an employer’s short-term disability insurance program remains stalled at 39 percent. This means that seriously ill or injured people may struggle to take paid time off to recover from or address their serious personal health issues.
The three-percentage point rise in workers’ access to paid leave is due to changes in the private sector over the past year. In the private sector, 16 percent of workers now have paid family leave. Gains in access disproportionately benefit professional and higher-wage workers. Thirty-one percent of the highest-paid private sector workers and 27 percent of professional workers now have access to paid family leave, increases of seven and five percentage points, respectively. Conversely, the share of the lowest paid private sector workers with access to paid family leave remains stalled at 4 percent. Those in the middle fall behind higher-wage workers as well — less than one in five workers in the second and third quartiles of wage earners have paid family leave. Progress is also uneven across regions. Workers in the Northeast and West continue to be more likely to have paid family leave than those in the South and Midwest.
Rising inequities continue a persistent trend. Since 2012, paid family leave access for private sector workers has increased 11 percentage points for those in the top 10 percent of wage earners, but just one percentage point for those in the bottom 10 percent.
A notable change in the private sector is the rising share of retail workers — 14 percent compared to 7 percent in 2017 — with paid family leave. This progress is due in large part to organizations like OUR Walmart, which fought for and won paid leave benefits for some retail and service workers who have traditionally been left behind.
“America’s workers cannot continue to rely solely on state and local laws or winning the boss lottery to gain access to this basic workplace protection,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women & Families. “It is striking that even in a relatively strong economy, where many companies recently received substantial tax breaks, workers’ access to paid family leave grew so little and in such an inequitable fashion. The data today reveal a clear need for a national public policy solution. A national paid family and medical leave plan is good for families, businesses and the economy. The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is the only plan currently before Congress that meets working people’s caregiving needs, including personal medical, family caregiving and certain military caregiving reasons. It is the plan that voters across party lines say they want. Members of Congress should listen to constituents and pass strong and comprehensive paid leave now.”