Most American workers have very few options when it comes to taking time off to bond with a new born, adopted or foster child. National legislation, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), only ensures 12 weeks of unpaid leave to those who are covered by the law. Due to restrictions in who is covered, 40% of U.S. workers are not. Of those who are covered by FMLA, but don’t take the unpaid leave, almost half say it’s because they can’t afford to take unpaid leave. Only 11 percent of private sector workers and 17 percent of public workers have access to paid maternity leave through their employers.
In 2004, there was some relief offered to California parents when the state became the first of three U.S. states to implement a Paid Family Leave program (New Jersey and Rhode Island are the other two). In California, workers contribute to a State Disability fund which allows them to be eligible to receive up to 55% of their wages for up to six weeks to bond with a new born, adopted or foster child or to care for a seriously ill family member.
Some of the benefits of Paid Family Leave in California include:
- Mothers who took paid leave breastfed their babies for twice as long as the median duration of new mothers.
- The proportion of new fathers taking paid family leave for bonding increased significantly, suggesting that the program increases bonding opportunities for the whole family.
- New mothers who are able to take leave after the birth of their babies experience lower rates of post-partum depression
- Workers reported a positive effect on their ability to care for a a new child and are more able to find reliable child care before they return to work.
While California’s Paid Family Leave program has shown great benefits to families who have used it, low awareness about the program, particularly among young adults, Latinos and low-wage workers, is keeping some families from these rewards.
This year, on the 10th anniversary of the implementation of Paid Family Leave in California, the California Work & Family Coalition (a project of Next Generation) is working with partner organizations to urge that the Employment Development Department raise awareness of the paid family leave program by using a portion of the State Disability fund, which currently is $2.4 billion dollars, for effective education and awareness. For more information about California’s Paid Leave program and the efforts to increase awareness, go to the Paid Family Leave CA’s website.