This policy brief by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) advocates for a comprehensive federal paid leave program, highlighting its necessity due to the uneven implementation of paid leave laws across states. Despite advances in 13 states and the District of Columbia, the absence of a nationwide policy perpetuates inequalities, especially burdening women and marginalized communities. The brief emphasizes that paid leave is not just a workforce issue but a critical economic strategy that enhances public health, promotes gender equity, and bolsters economic stability by facilitating workforce participation.

Key Findings

  • Employment and Gender Disparities: Paid leave significantly influences job choice for women, with nearly 78% of women considering paid sick time and family leave as crucial factors.

  • Economic Benefits: Introducing a universal paid leave policy would cost under 1% of total wage and salary expenses while yielding substantial economic returns through higher labor force engagement, decreased public assistance dependency, and enhanced productivity.

  • Impact of COVID19: The pandemic exacerbated access disparities to paid leave, with Black and Latinx communities, particularly Latina women, facing heightened challenges due to insufficient leave policies.

Implications for Policy and Practice

To mitigate the fragmented landscape of paid leave and ensure equitable access, the report proposes the establishment of a federal program that:

  • Provides a minimum of 12 weeks of paid leave for all types of workers, covering a wide range of needs from health recovery to caregiving and bereavement.

  • Expands the definition of "family" to reflect diverse modern family structures, allowing individuals to care for chosen family members.

  • Guarantees job protection and prohibits retaliation, ensuring workers can utilize leave benefits without fear of job loss.

The brief concludes with legislative recommendations that include the FAMILY Act to create a national insurance program for family and medical leave and other bills aimed at expanding and standardizing paid leave provisions across the country.