PAID FAMILY LEAVE
WHAT IS PAID FAMILY LEAVE AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
State paid family leave programs require employers to allow eligible parents time off from work to bond with a new child while receiving a portion of their wages. Among the minority of states with a paid family leave program, parents are allowed to take between 4 and 12 weeks off of work, with pay varying based on a proportion of the employee’s wages prior to taking leave. States also vary in eligibility requirements, job protection provisions, and funding mechanisms.
Without Paid Family Leave, Most Parents Only Have Access to Unpaid Leave
In states without paid family leave, the only access to leave is through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows qualifying workers to receive 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave with continuous health coverage.1,2 Only 60% of workers qualify for the FMLA,3 and the policy largely benefits higher-income and White workers.4 Because the FMLA provides only unpaid leave to eligible workers, many parents with low incomes may not use the time off or may shorten the duration of leave to avoid losing wages.
Paid Family Leave Keeps Parents Working and Supports the Health and Wellbeing of Children and Parents
By providing parents with the time and financial security to stay home to bond with a new child, state paid family leave programs can improve the economic security of the family and keep parents engaged in the workforce.5,6 Paid family leave also supports child and parental health and wellbeing. Paid family leave programs help new parents have more time to bond with their babies, develop positive caregiving skills, and build the foundation for healthy attachment.7 Parents also may be better able to seek timely and preventative health care for themselves and their children.8,9
WHAT IMPACT DOES PAID FAMILY LEAVE HAVE?
Paid family leave policies providing a minimum of 6 weeks of paid leave to new parents increase the length and likelihood of leave-taking, boost mothers’ labor force participation, improve mothers’ mental health, and foster better child-parent relationships and child health.
More Research Is Needed to Determine the Potential of Paid Family Leave to Reduce Disparities
Limited evidence suggests that access to paid family leave may have a greater impact for women of color than for White women, but more research is needed to understand the full potential of paid family leave to reduce disparities across outcomes. For outcomes such as family leave-taking, access to paid family leave reduces known racial disparities.10 Access to paid family leave leads to better outcomes for women of color for postpartum psychological distress and receipt of postpartum care, but there are insufficient data to determine whether these results represent reductions in disparities.11,12 Research has found that access to paid family leave has no impact on reducing racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes.13,14
WHAT PROGRESS HAVE STATES MADE IN THE LAST YEAR TO ADOPT AND FULLY IMPLEMENT PAID FAMILY LEAVE?
Currently, 10 states have adopted a statewide paid family leave program, and six of these states have fully implemented benefits of at least 6 weeks. Over half of the states without a statewide program took steps to enact one.
This year, Massachusetts joined California, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, and Washington in providing working parents at least 6 weeks of paid time off following the birth, adoption, or placement of a child into foster care. In addition, Rhode Island voted this session to expand the state’s paid family leave benefit from 4 weeks to 6 weeks beginning in 2023, and Oregon, Colorado, and Connecticut will fully implement their programs in subsequent years.
Tracking State Policy Progress
Policy adoption does not typically happen quickly. States may introduce legislation several times before adopting a policy and take even more time to fully implement it. Every year we track states’ efforts toward adopting and fully implementing each of the five effective policies in this State Policy Roadmap. The figure below illustrates the change in each state’s policy status between 2020 and 2021. This change in status toward full policy implementation may mask the legislative activity that states engage in throughout the year. Therefore, we also document and summarize the legislative progress states are making toward full implementation of a paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks. In subsequent sections, we describe how states vary in the generosity and implementation of their state paid family leave programs.
To Date, 6 States Have Adopted and Fully Implemented a Paid Family Leave Program of at Least 6 Weeks
As of October 2021, 10 states have adopted a paid family leave program that, when fully implemented, will offer working parents at least 6 weeks of paid leave. Currently, families can only access these benefits in six states, however, including Massachusetts which began fully implementing its 12-week program in January 2021. New York increased the number of weeks available to working parents from 10 to 12 weeks, beginning in January 2021. These two states joined New Jersey and Washington in providing 12 weeks of benefits. California and the District of Columbia currently provide parents with 8 weeks of paid family leave.
4 Additional States Will Provide Paid Family Leave to Working Parents by 2024
Connecticut will fully implement its paid family leave program of 12 weeks beginning in January 2022. This year, Rhode Island voted to expand its paid family leave benefits from 4 to 5 weeks beginning in 2022, and to 6 weeks in 2023. These two states will become the seventh and eighth states to fully implement at least 6 weeks of paid leave. Oregon’s 12-week program will be fully implemented in late 2023, and Colorado will begin providing 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents in 2024.
14 States Have a Paid Family Leave Program for Eligible State Employees
This year, New Hampshire became the fourteenth state to offer a paid family leave program to eligible state employees. The state voted to provide up to 6 weeks of benefits beginning August 2023 to state employees. Private sector employers and employees will have the option to buy into the program through private insurance. This sort of option has not been implemented in other states, and we will be following the program’s reach and success. New Hampshire joins 13 other states that offer a paid family leave program to at least some of their state employees; eight of these states also introduced legislation this past year to adopt a statewide program, but the legislation did not pass in any of the eight states.
23 States Introduced, but Did Not Pass Legislation to Adopt a Paid Family Leave Program of at Least 6 Weeks
Although the states were not successful, 23 states introduced legislation this past session to adopt a paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks. Of these 23 states, 19 introduced bills that would provide up to 12 weeks of benefits when fully implemented, and four introduced bills that would provide up to 6 weeks. Two additional states, Michigan and West Virginia, introduced bills that would establish a 4-week program, and would not meet the 6-week threshold. The most rigorous research to date indicates that having access to a minimum of 6 weeks of paid leave is necessary to impact child and family wellbeing.
How Does West Virginia Compare to Other States in Making Progress Toward Adopting and Fully Implementing a Paid Family Leave Program of a Minimum of 6 Weeks?
The figures below show how states compare to one another in making progress toward adopting and fully implementing a paid family leave program with a minimum of 6 weeks of benefits.
To date, six states have adopted and fully implemented a paid family program with at least 6 weeks of benefits, and four of these states offer 12 weeks of benefits.
Four additional states have adopted a program that, when fully implemented, will provide between 6 and 12 weeks of benefits, and the states will begin offering the benefits to working parents over the next 3 years.
Fourteen states offer a paid leave program to eligible state employees, however, these states do not have a statewide paid family leave program. Currently, 27 states do not have any paid family leave program (statewide or for state employees); 17 of these states introduced legislation to enact a statewide program in the last year, but all failed to pass legislation.
HOW DOES PAID FAMILY LEAVE VARY ACROSS THE STATES?
Among States With Paid Family Leave Programs, Benefits and Funding Mechanisms Vary
States vary in the number of weeks offered, the portion of wages paid, eligibility requirements, job protection provisions, and funding mechanisms. States currently offer between 4 and 12 weeks of paid family leave. Four states (California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) pay a set percentage of the worker’s average weekly wages ranging from 60% to 85%, depending on the state. The other six states pay a percentage of the worker’s wages relative to the state’s average weekly wage. In the majority of states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington), the workers cover the full cost, often through a payroll deduction. In Colorado and Oregon, workers and employers share the cost of the program, and in the District of Columbia, employers cover the full cost.