What You Should Know

Americans want people to be able to take time off from work when they need it, whether that’s to welcome a new baby, recover from an illness, or care for a loved one. In 2020, as a part of emergency measures passed in response to the pandemic, the federal government required businesses to provide specific, new paid leave benefits.

Some policymakers want to make those measures permanent or create another federal program to provide similar benefits for all workers. This would be a mistake: a sweeping, permanent, one-size-fits-all paid leave regime would profoundly backfire on the American people, in terms of employment opportunities, take-home pay, and true workplace flexibility.

Debates about such entitlement programs or mandates too often focus solely on the obvious benefits, while ignoring the considerable costs and consequences they impose. This is a grave policy error, especially since those costs—including reduced take-home pay due to regressive payroll taxes, reduced wages, and lost work opportunities, particularly flexible work options—would hit lower-income workers and women the hardest. Research on paid leave programs in Europe and at the state level in the U.S. conclude they often act as Robin Hood in reverse, taking resources from poorer workers and giving them to wealthier workers.

Policymakers shouldn’t impose their vision of what a paid leave package ought to contain on every American worker, many of whom are content with their existing situation. Rather, they should focus on providing those workers who currently struggle due to a lack paid leave benefits with better options and targeted support.