CEPR

For Immediate Release: February 4, 2019 

Contact: Karen Conner, (202) 293-5380 x117, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington DC — In the absence of a national paid family and medical leave insurance program, several states have taken the lead in offering paid family leave benefits to workers. These programs are intended to level the playing field for workers, mostly low-wage earners, without access to these benefits through an employer. However, data shows that a lack of awareness of these benefits keeps nearly half of eligible workers, especially those who would benefit most, from using the benefits. 

Paid family leave programs went into effect in California in 2004, New Jersey in 2008, and Rhode Island in 2014. Each state faced challenges to increase awareness and use of these programs among low-wage workers, workers without a college degree, black or Hispanic workers, and workers where English is not spoken at home. Advocates in the three states initiated strategies to address this challenge. The lessons learned from the failures and successes of these strategies are published in a report, Passing Paid Leave Laws Are Just the Beginning: Lessons from the Field on Raising Awareness, released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

Economist Eileen Appelbaum and sociologist Mary Gatta, co-authors of this report, found two overarching principles needed to be met for successful implementation of paid family leave programs. First, develop interventions that are scalable and can become institutionalized. An example of successful institutionalization was when staff from a New Jersey Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) center integrated discussions of paid family leave into weekly breastfeeding classes.

“We believe the lessons drawn from the field will help advocates in other states avoid the pitfalls and replicate the successes of outreach interventions,” said Appelbaum.

The second overarching principle is to address agency rules and systems that create barriers to workers attempting to access paid leave benefits. An example of a systems barrier comes from Rhode Island where advocates discovered that the time needed to get a birth certificate, required for some benefit applications, was longer than the window allowed for parents to apply for paid leave benefits.

“Even after passing laws to provide workers with paid leave, this report demonstrates that a lot of work remains to be done,” said Gatta. “What we learned from these interventions can help make implementation more effective.”