working women

More about Family Leave (paid and unpaid)

In case you missed my last post about why the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer paid family leave, the short answer is cost and politics.  

Though Obama won’t (and Hilary Clinton, likely won’t) back a bill that raises payroll taxes even 0.2% to pay for paid family leave, they both have made supportive remarks about why companies should nevertheless pay for workers who need to take leave for the birth of a child or an ill family member.  And Obama convened the White House Summit on Working Families just two weeks ago to highlight the issue and lend support to the cause.  Accepting the political and financial realities for now, I’ve decided to move on to some interesting facts about the Families and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which provides that some employers must provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave under certain circumstances: 

  • The FMLA only applies to 17% of work-sites but is available for close to 90% of all employees.  Many work-sites are exempt b/c they have fewer than 50 employees within 75 miles of the site but this implies a minority of work sites employ the vast majority of all employees.
  • 13% of all workers actually took leave under FMLA in one sampling year (2012) for one of the approved reasons: (i) serious health condition of family member; (ii) a new child; or (iii) deployment of a family member to the Armed Forces or reserves.
  • Of these reasons, 7% of all workers took leave for their own illnesses; 2% of all workers took leave for a new child; another 2% of all workers took leave to care for a family member; and less than 1% took leave for military reasons
  • 12% of all workers have access to paid leave (for one reason or another, e.g. a state mandates the paid leave, or the company voluntarily provides it) and its generally available to more workers who are already better off (i.e. in the top 25% of all earners)

Taking in all the above, its clear why a paid program looks so costly to implement.  It would potentially mean 90% of all employees would be covered, and up to 13% of all workers would use it every year.  In reality, guaranteed paid leave might even drive that 13% figure higher, as people tried to take advantage of a policy that pays them despite not having to report to work.

If you’re interested in taking a closer look at the data, you can review it within this Department of Labor report or this article reporting on related Labor Department statistics.

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