Last weekend marked a decade since California enacted its groundbreaking state paid family leave insurance program – the first in the nation. In honor of this anniversary, researchers at the University of Santa Barbara took a look at the program’s impact on the state’s families, businesses and economy. As Californians who have used the program to care for a new child or an ill loved one know, it is a huge success.
For example, the analysis shows that mothers in lower quality jobs who used the state’s paid leave program were able to breastfeed for twice as long as those who did not. Breastfeeding is known to decrease the risk of disease for both mothers and infants.
The program has allowed new fathers to care for their children without sacrificing their economic security. In the past three years, use of the paid leave program among new fathers has increased by six percent. This is critical at a time when the majority of families are increasingly dependent on two incomes.
The benefits experienced by California businesses have also been significant. Women who returned to their jobs after taking paid leave through the state’s program increased their working hours by six to nine percent. And because the program is funded through employee contributions, there have been zero direct costs for employers.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for workers and businesses, the report also recognizes that there are areas for improvement. Too many Californians still don’t know about the program, and many low-income workers – even though they pay into the program – can’t afford to use it because they can’t make ends meet with the level of wage replacement (55 percent of wages) it provides.
So there’s much to celebrate at this anniversary, but there’s also work to do – in California and throughout the country.
California’s program means that more workers are able to take the time they need to care for their new children or ailing loved ones. But, for the majority of workers in the United States, caregiving leave without financial worry is out of reach. With the success of California’s program – and a similar one in New Jersey – as our guide, it’s time for Congress to establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that nearly all workers will be able to use at some point in their lives.
The ability to take care of one’s health and family should not depend on geography. California continues to show us that success is possible and benefits are far-reaching. It’s time for the entire country to follow the Golden State’s lead.