Today, more than 30 million of America’s working families have young children, and more than 25 million workers provide unpaid care for elderly relatives and loved ones every year. The needs that they tend to aren’t always the kind that can be addressed in a day here or there.
While caregiving roles in the U.S. are changing, with more fathers and sons taking up primary caregiving responsibilities, the majority of family caregivers are women. In 2011, BLS data documented more than 5 million working women with children under three years old, translating into more than 5 million births or adoptions in the preceding three-year period – major life events that require absences from work.
On the other end of age spectrum, approximately 66 percent of caregivers are women, particularly for aging family members and many of them can’t afford to care for themselves or their loved ones in times of illness or medical emergency.
Nearly 60 percent of U.S. workers are eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees unpaid, job-protected leave for men and women to care for their newborn or newly adopted children, seriously ill family members, or their own health needs. However, many workers and many women simply can’t afford to take unpaid leave.
Because there is no comprehensive, national policy on paid leave, too many are forced to choose between taking time off of work to provide that care and earning the money to help pay for it. Fortunately, a few states have stepped up, implementing, or at least exploring the options around, state-operated paid leave programs. But for those without access, the impact of the loss of two months’ or even two weeks’ pay can set families back, with dramatic consequences.
These consequences have a ripple effect on communities, businesses, and our economy as a whole. Research shows that offering paid leave and flexibility correlates with greater productivity, higher profits, employee recruitment and retention, and increased job satisfaction. Furthermore, paid leave enables more women with family caregiving responsibilities to remain in the labor force, and a larger labor force helps increase the rate of economic growth.
Today, we were delighted to announce that the Department of Labor has awarded $500,000 to assist Massachusetts, Montana, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia in funding feasibility studies on paid leave. The studies will inform the development or implementation of paid family and medical leave programs at the state level – seeking solutions that work for their unique communities.
As Secretary Perez has said, it’s time for America to lead on paid leave. It’s time to make strides in our workplace policies to meet the long-standing realities of today’s working women and families. It is critical to the nation’s economic success, and these grants are an important step in the right direction.
Editor’s note: This is the second blog post in “Working Families, a Reality Series” by Women’s Bureau Director Latifa Lyles exploring issues that affect women and families in the 21st-century workplace.