Low-Income Families Face the Biggest Need for Paid Family Leave

  • There is widespread, bipartisan support for a federal parental leave policy.
  • The most compelling reason for a family leave program is the need to support low-income families, who are significantly less likely to receive paid leave from their employers.
  • While there have been numerous studies of the benefits of family leave, the potential costs of such a program for low-income families have received little attention.

A Family Leave Entitlement Could Harm Low-Income Families

  • Studies of family and parental leave entitlement programs raise serious concern that they redistribute income away from low-income families.
  • While 79% of high-income mothers receive benefits under California’s family leave program, only 36% of low-income mothers do.
  • While about 75% to 85% of high-income mothers receive benefits from Canada’s parental leave program, only about 45% of low-income mothers do.
  • While 68% of high-income mothers collect more than 26 weeks of benefits under the UnitedKingdom’s parental leave program, only 31% of low-income mothers do.
  • Studies of programs operated by New Jersey,Rhode Island, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, andBelgium all raise similar concerns. As one of the studies’ authors concluded, the programs are a “pure leisure transfer to middle and upper income families … at the expense of some of the least well-off in society.”

Better Ways to Support Family Leave

  • We can expand access to family leave without disadvantaging low-income families.
  • Policies such as“Earned Leave,” reforms to tax-preferred savings accounts, and creating a voluntary family and medical leave insurance program could support family leave without taxing low-income families to fund a program that offers them disproportionately little benefit.
  • The key feature of each of these programs is that participation is voluntary and they impose no costs on non-participants.

For more on this topic, read IWF’s policy focus.