For Immediate Release: November 21, 2013
Contact: Alan Barber, (202) 293-5380 x115

Washington, D.C. – As working families, businesses and elected officials across the country look for solutions to work-family issues, a new book, Unfinished Business, shows the potential of a national paid family leave program to boost the economy and help working families and businesses alike.

Nearly ten years after California became the first state to implement a family leave insurance program, the book by Ruth Milkman, academic director of CUNY's Murphy Labor Institute, and Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explores California’s decade-long experience with paid family leave and lessons learned for a national program. This comes shortly before the introduction in Congress of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), a bill to create a national family and medical leave insurance program. These policies boost the economy by helping workers keep their families afloat during a serious illness or a birth.

“We found that California’s paid family leave program – and by extension a potential national program – are good for the finances of families and do not impose major burdens on businesses,” said Appelbaum. “Despite fear and sky-falling claims from business lobbyists, these programs have no effect or a positive effect for most businesses, reduce turnover and improve retention of employees, and put money in the pockets of customers. These benefits can spread across the country if a national family leave program passes.”

Drawing on original data from fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California population, Milkman and Appelbaum analyze in detail the effect of the state’s landmark paid family leave program on employers and workers. While business lobbyists resisted efforts to pass this law in California, the book shows that once the law took effect, large majorities of employers reported that its impact on productivity, profitability, and performance was negligible or positive. The authors also found that the program has untapped potential to help many more Californians. Those who need the program’s benefits most urgently—low-wage workers, young workers, immigrants, and disadvantaged minorities—are unfortunately least likely to know about the program and access it.

“While California’s program has been extremely beneficial for the workers who know about it, we found that there is still a significant issue with workers knowing that they have a right to paid family leave,” said Milkman. “What is perhaps most alarming is that those who are least likely to know about the program are also those least likely to be able to afford to take unpaid time off when a family member is ill. With increased promotion of this program, it would be more widely used and its benefits even more substantial.”

California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) program provides a self-sustaining family leave insurance fund to allow working people to receive a portion of their pay when they need time to provide family care – resulting in significant benefits for their families, businesses and our economy. Specifically, this program provides workers with up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill child, parent or spouse and after the birth or adoption of a child. California workers contribute a very small portion of their wages into this insurance program and that fund allows workers to receive up to 55 percent of their wages while providing family care.

In 2004 California became the first state to implement a PFL program, followed in 2009 by New Jersey. The programs have been enormously successful, with 1.4 million claims filed in California and 100,000 filed in New Jersey since their implementation, and high levels of support among business owners and workers.  This spring Rhode Island became the third state to create and fund a similar program.  In Washington State, a paid parental leave program has been adopted by the legislature but awaits implementation. New York State is the next state likely to pass a family leave insurance program. Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut have convened task forces to explore the issue. Several other states are laying the groundwork for similar legislation.    

Family and medical leave insurance programs seek to address the most significant gap in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the first federal law that guaranteed Americans could address family and medical needs without risking their jobs. While FMLA has been used more than 100 million times by men and women across the nation to provide care to loved ones or address their own serious health conditions, several million workers a year who are eligible for FMLA and need time away from their jobs for FMLA reasons don’t take it – mostly because they cannot afford to go without pay. Family and medical leave insurance makes time to care affordable, bringing our nation’s policies in line with our values and reflecting the realities of 21st century workplaces and families.