Promoting Gender Equity and Increasing Employment through Paid Family Leave
Today, in anticipation of next Tuesday’s Equal Pay Day, the Center for American Progress released a package of reports finding that guaranteeing workers paid family and medical leave will promote greater gender equity and reduce the gender wage gap. Additionally, providing workers paid leave will also increase the short-term economic security of families, as well as the long-term retirement security of women and caregivers.
Families are no longer organized the same way they were in the 1950s, yet our workplace policies have not kept pace with these shifts. Women now represent about half of all workers on U.S. payrolls, compared to making up only one-third of workers in 1967. An increasing number of women serve as the family breadwinner or a co-breadwinner, and as a result, most children are now growing up in a family without a full time, stay-at-home caregiver. The movement of women out of the home and into the paid labor force has changed everything about our daily lives, yet the United States is one of only a handful of industrialized nations that does not guarantee workers paid time off to provide family care and the only industrialized country that offers no paid maternity leave.
Women continue to face real barriers to staying in the labor market when family caregiving needs arise. In fact, women are more likely than men to leave a job or shift from full-time to part-time work when they have a child. Women are also more likely to leave a job or make the shift from full-time to part-time in order to provide ongoing care to an elderly, ailing parent. Many women are left with little option but to make such a choice as they face workplaces with no paid family leave policies or inflexible scheduling practices.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 currently provides unpaid, job-protected leave for these types of events, but only about half of the workforce qualifies for this leave, and many more cannot afford to take it because it is unpaid. To address this problem, the Center for American Progress has proposed Social Security Cares, which would modernize the Social Securities Act by providing 12 weeks of paid leave to qualifying workers after the following life events:
- The birth of a newborn, or the arrival of a newly adopted or fostered child
- The serious illness of a spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child
- The worker’s own serious illness that limits their ability to work
The two reports released today document the far reaching positive impacts of this proposal. The first report by The Center for the Next Generation's Ann O'Leary entitled Protecting Workers and Their Families with Paid Family Leave and Caregiving Credits finds that providing workers of both sexes access to paid, job protected family leave will be an important advancement in working to close the wage gap between men and women.
When workers with care responsibly withdraw from the workforce or limit their work, they bring home less income in the short run, are less likely to earn raises and promotions at the same pace as those without care responsibilities, have more restricted access to workplace retirement benefits, and accumulate lower lifetime earnings. In addition, caregivers who must temporarily leave the workforce stop earning credits toward Social Security retirement benefits when they are out of the labor force providing family care. This means they are penalized immediately because of lost daily income and over the long haul due to the loss of Social Security retirement income.
In addition to modernizing Social Security to provide paid family leave, the report recommends crediting unpaid family caregivers with Social Security retirement benefits when they take leave to care for family members. Doing so will insure that they will be at least partially compensated for their caregiving in retirement.
Women who exit the workforce when a child is born or a loved one falls seriously ill face a double whammy—they lose their income and lose the ability to earn credit towards Social Security retirement benefits. These problems must be addressed with policies that encourage women to return to work and provide support when they must be out of work—our proposal addresses both of these needs.
The second report, The Effects of Paid Family and Medical Leave on Employment Stability and Economic Security, finds that paid leave will increase the employment rate of caregivers, mostly through increasing the likelihood of returning to one’s same employer after needing a caring labor break. In addition, paid leave would improve gender equity by reducing the stigma around taking family leave, encouraging more men to take leave, and bridge the gap between men’s and women’s lifetime work histories. Furthermore, greater employment among caregivers will increase the tax base for Social Security and contribute to its overall solvency.
Creating a new insurance program to give workers income support when they need time off to care for a new child, a sick loved one, or cope with their own serious illness will mean that workers with care responsibilities would no longer have to choose between a pay-check and the care their loved one needs. Ironically, giving workers support when they need it most will actually keep caregivers in the workplace over the long-run. This is the kind of investment in our families and our workers that will pay off for us all.
Read the reports:
- Protecting Workers and Their Families with Paid Family Leave and Caregiving Credits: Why Social Security Should Guard Against 21st Century Economic Insecurities by Ann O’Leary
- The Effects of Paid Family and Medical Leave on Employment Stability and Economic Security, by Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn