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Paid Family Leave’s 10th Anniversary Marks Real Progress for Californians

It’s not very often that you get to celebrate major public policy successes, but this week is different. Thanks to the tireless efforts of advocates, researchers, and workers of all backgrounds, California is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the state’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) program.    

Over the last decade, this first-in-the-nation, worker-funded program has helped 1.8 million Californians take temporary time away from work to bond with a new child or care for an ailing family member.

As we have worked hard to document, everyday Californians have objectively benefited from PFL, taking advantage of the program after the birth of a child or to care for loved one in need. And the benefits don’t stop there.

Research has confirmed that paid leave can nearly double the amount of time mothers take to breastfeed, increase child health by helping families obtain basic immunizations and safe child care, and, importantly, helps working mothers maintain and even expand hours at work after taking maternity leave, enhancing family income.

These benefits further extend into the home, nurturing healthier children and more connected families. Indeed, since 2004, fathers have more than doubled their use of paid family leave so that now 30 percent of all leave-takers are men. This is a notable achievement, particularly as research finds that paternal leave boosts a father’s share of child care and positively impacts child development.    

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the roughly 215,000 leave claims made last year represents only a little over one and a half percent of California’s 13 million-person labor force that pays into the system. In addition, while more than 500,000 births occur in any given year in our state, only 36 percent of those births result in a parent filing to take leave from work.  

In fact, three years ago, I helped write an assessment of PFL based on experiences in California, framing some of the challenges still facing the program. Among them are chronically low levels of awareness, likely preventing many thousands of individuals from participating in the program.

Surveys confirm that a majority of Californians remain unaware of the program’s existence, a deficit that it most apparent among Latinos, individuals with low incomes, and those with less education. And among those that were aware of the program, many do not know that they can take PFL to care for an ailing family member.

Thankfully, Next Generation, the California Work & Family Coalition, and partners across the state have made serious progress on this front. Through our efforts, funds have been successfully included in the state’s final budget for outreach and awareness activities.

These dollars will be directed toward individuals most likely to benefit from PFL, including low-income parents who would otherwise be unable to take time away from work without some form of income replacement.

In addition, as a result of successful legislative advocacy last year in the form of SB 770, PFL will also be expanded this week to allow individuals to take leave to care for a sibling, in-law, grandchild or grandparent; a serious oversight that has now been corrected.  

These are impressive successes, that, brick-by-brick, are making a difference in the lives of families across our state. As our national leaders consistently look to California for leadership on issues like paid family leave, we’ll have continued to prove that a thirst for progress is alive and well. 

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