The coronavirus pandemic has brought the debate over how to best expand access to paid leave to the forefront. In the newest IWF policy focus, IWF Senior Fellow Kristin Shapiro discusses a few of the lessons learned from the current crisis and steps that policymakers can take to support paid leave for those who lack this benefit.

Everyone loves the party game/icebreaker “two truths and a lie.”

Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about paid leave?

A. Unlike other states, states with paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave entitlements have successfully contained COVID-19.
B. A paid family and medical leave entitlement would disadvantage low-income families. 
C. It is possible to help workers take paid time off when they need to without enacting a new entitlement program.

Let’s take these statements one at a time:

A. FALSE! As Kristin explains in the policy focus, states with taxpayer funded programs or mandates on employers have generally fared poorly during the coronavirus pandemic:

Thirteen states currently mandate paid sick leave, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island. (New York’s law takes effect in 2021, although New York City enacted its own law in 2013.) As of the date of this publication, these states represent eight of the top ten states—and five of the top five—with the highest COVID-19 death totals per capita

Five states—New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, and Washington—have paid family and medical leave programs in effect. (Three other states and the District of Columbia have adopted such laws, but they have not yet taken effect.). These states have generally been hard-hit by the pandemic. Indeed, it would be shocking if the programs had decreased transmission of the coronavirus because most impose a waiting period before workers are eligible for benefits, and it can take weeks to actually receive a check. 

B. TRUE! Evidence from other countries and U.S. states show that, because low-income families are less likely to take up these benefits, paid family and medical leave entitlement programs tend to transfer wealth from low-income to middle- and high-income people. 

Click HERE to learn more about how entitlement-based paid family leave programs hurt, not help, low-income families.

C. TRUE! Fortunately, many employers already offer paid leave benefits to their workers. However, many workers still do not have the time or resources they need to take time off from work to care for themselves or their loved ones.

There are alternatives to a new government entitlement that would help these workers take time off, including:

  • Voluntary Family and Medical Leave Insurance
  • Paid Leave in Lieu of Overtime Pay
  • Modernizing Tax-Preferred Savings Accounts
  • Advancing Social Security Benefits
  • Temporary Paid Leave Benefits

Check out the policy focus to learn more about these proposals and how they would empower people and give them new and better options without imposing the costs of a new entitlement.