For Immediate Release: June 16, 2014
Contact: Alan Barber (202) 293-5380 x115

Washington, DC – The United States remains the only high-income country that does not mandate paid family and medical leave. Each year, more than 2.5 million working Americans cannot afford to take unpaidtime off to care for a family member with a serious health condition or who was injured during military service, for pregnancy, to bond with a new child, or for their own illness or disability. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research demonstrates that a federal paid leave program could effectively close this gap.

The report, “Documenting the Need for a National Paid Family and Medical Leave Program,” by Helene Jorgensen and Eileen Appelbaum, analyzes the Department of Labor’s Family and Medical Leave Survey and documents the unmet leave needs of private-sector workers in the United States.

 “While the FMLA does allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave, the law only applies to 55.9 percent of private sector workers due to eligibility requirements,” said Helene Jorgensen, a senior research associate at CEPR and an author of the report. “Just as importantly, this leave is unpaid. The prospect of losing income during a leave acts as the most commonly cited disincentive to taking time off for family or medical reasons.”

The authors’ analysis shows that 49 percent of private-sector employees who needed to take leave but did not take it reported they could not afford to take unpaid leave as the main reason for not taking family and medical leave. Slightly more than 18 percent reported they did not take leave because of concerns that they would not be able to return to their jobs.

Jorgenson and Appelbaum call attention to the fact that federal legislation – the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act – was introduced in Congress in 2013 to establish a nation-wide paid leave program. At the state-level, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have enacted paid leave programs to increase access to affordable family leave for all employees. The California experience in particular demonstrates that businesses experience little or no negative effects from such legislation, and in fact generates cost savings in many cases. The analysis suggests that by providing partial wage replacement to employees through a federal family and medical leave insurance program, such as the the FAMILY Act would allow between 1.9 and 2.5 million private-sector employees to take much needed time to care for themselves and their families.