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Many states fail in providing family leave according to new report card

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
family leave, disability insurance, working mother, childcare, financial impact

A new child places significant demands on parents. Many new moms and dads would like to take some time off from work to focus on parenting and family life. Unfortunately, economic factors often impact this course of action. No federal laws are in place that cover family leave; thus, it falls under state jurisdiction.

According to a new study, most states fall short of the mark in this regard. In fact, 18 states received an F for failure to provide either benefits or support programs for new parents. The report card, titled Expecting Better, was released in May 2012 by the National Partnership for Women & Families, a non-profit advocacy group.

The report card grades every state and the District of Columbia on how well its laws and programs support new moms and dads. No states received an A and only two states received an A minus: California and Connecticut. The report notes that California was the first state to pass a paid family leave law and Connecticut has passed a statewide paid sick day law. Because of statutes that improved access to paid sick days and family leave, Washington DC and New Jersey received grades of B plus. Three states, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, received a B for creating some family friendly policies. A significant number of Cs and Ds were handed out.

The 18 states that receive an F were Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia.

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The report notes that the United States lags behind many nations: 178 nations guarantee paid leave for new moms, and 54 nations guarantee paid leave for new dads. It points out that gaps in our nation’s major work and family law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), leave millions of working parents without even unpaid job-protected leave when a new child arrives. In addition, many parents are left on their own. As a result, when workers need family or medical leave, they generally have to rely on individual employers’ policies.

However, only 38% of workers have short-term disability insurance (paid for by the employer), which provides some income during a woman’s pregnancy-related disability leave. Most women cannot afford to take unpaid leave. In nearly two-thirds of families, women are the primary or co-breadwinners; therefore, unpaid leave can inflict financial hardship. Low wage workers are impacted the most by the lack of family leave policies.

The report claims that most Americans support family friendly policies; 76% of adults feel that businesses should be required to provide paid family and medical leave. In addition, 78% say that family and maternity leave is a “very important” labor standard for workers.

Take home message:
It is indisputable that both the child and new parents benefit from time together. Some women enjoy the luxury of being able to take months or even years off from work to care for a new child. Many others are financially impacted by even a week or two off from work. A new mom who returns to work shortly after the birth of a child often has less net income. Some have a family member who can provide compassionate—and free—childcare. Others have to pay a substantial amount for childcare. The question becomes: Who should cover the cost of family leave. Some Americans claim that it should be the responsibility of the individual either out-of-pocket or via the purchase of short-term disability insurance; others counter that it should be a state or federal benefit. California was one of two states to earn an A minus; however, it is currently bankrupt.

Reference: National Partnership for Women & Families