For women with spouses who have serious medical problems, access to paid family leave reduces the likelihood that they will leave work, according to a new study.
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If you work in California and your sister is undergoing cancer treatments, or your spouse is undergoing knee surgery, you may be able to get paid while you take time off to care for them.
It’s a lesser-known part of California’s paid family leave benefit, which also covers new parents who leave work to care for and bond with their babies. While the number of Californians, especially women, using paid leave for reasons beyond babies has skyrocketed in the past two decades, still about six more times they use paid family leave to care for new children than to care for seriously ill family members.
although there is broad support to give new parents paid time off, a benefit that does not exist in the US, there is less consensus on paid leave to care for sick relatives. At the same time, research on the effects of paid family leave for anyone other than new parents has been limited. However, a new study published today finds that access to paid family leave decreases the likelihood that women will leave their jobs if their spouse has serious health problems.
Researchers from Wellesley College and Stanford University analyzed data from thousands of adults who had a child who had surgery or was hospitalized, or a spouse who had a health condition or cognitive limitation and also had a significant health problem. . They compared results for people in California, New York and New Jersey before and after those states passed paid family leave, and also compared them to people in other states who don’t have family leave.
Women with spouses who had health problems saw the greatest benefit. While all of the women were working to begin with, after their spouses had surgery or were hospitalized, about 10% of the women left their jobs.
But, according to the study, access to paid family leave more than halved the rate at which they left work. “We were surprised by how large this effect was,” said Maya Rossin-Slater, a Stanford health economist and one of the paper’s authors.
Rossin-Slater has seen the benefits manifest in her own life: Her mother has taken twice paid leave to care for the family. Once was about 10 years ago, when Rossin-Slater herself underwent surgery, and the second time she went more recently to care for Rossin-Slater’s uncle, who had cancer. “He was actually going to retire, but then decided not to retire and instead used paid family leave,” Rossin-Slater said of her mother.
The study finding was concentrated among women with 12 or fewer years of education. Many women without a college education work in low-paying jobs that do not offer paid family leave benefits, Rossin-Slater said, so “in the absence of a statewide program, these women are often left to fend for themselves.” . for themselves.”
Paid family leave did not have a significant impact on whether men would stay at their jobs if their spouses with a health condition had a significant health problem. Regardless of whether they had access to paid family leave, less than half of 1% of the men in the study reported leaving their job to care for a family member or their home, Rossin-Slater said. “Very few men do that, so maybe it’s not surprising that (paid family leave) doesn’t really affect them,” she said.
Priyanka Anand, a health economist at George Mason University who has also studied the impacts of paid family leave, said she liked the research, particularly because it focuses on non-parental uses of paid leave, which has received little attention by part of the researchers. The data the researchers used has strengths, he said, but a downside is the relatively small number of people who actually had access to paid family leave: While more than 2,700 healthy spouses were in the sample, only 237 of them had access to paid family leave.
Some people hesitate to take leave because they worry about losing their job, being the first to be laid off in the future or being passed over for raises or promotions, said Christina Irving, director of client services at the San Francisco-based Family Caregiver Alliance.
In 2020, state legislators expanded labor protections for people who take leave. Now, if you work at a business with five or more employees and meet the work hour requirements, you can take unpaid leave to care for a family member and be legally protected against losing your job. Previously, employment protections generally covered people who worked at companies with at least 50 people in or near the workplace. Many people get job protection and some pay during their leave, but the laws that provide those two benefits are separate.
“In general, people are very concerned about how they can make sure they keep their jobs,” said Katherine Wutchiett, lead attorney for Legal Aid at Work, a San Francisco nonprofit that provides legal services to low-income workers. “If you have a spouse who is facing a long-term disability and will be out of a job, it could be the only source of income for your family for the first time, which makes it even more important that they are able to keep their job,” she said.
More changes are coming in 2025, when low-income workers will be able to keep the 90% of your paycheck when they take paid family leave. Currently, workers get 60% to 70% of their wages when they take leave. Advocates pushed for the increase, saying many low-income workers couldn’t afford to take leave when it came to a big pay cut.
Another barrier to getting paid family leave is understanding what you are eligible for and how, exactly, to get the benefits. Legal Aid at Work has a hotline for people who have questions about paid leave and other accommodations in the workplace, or who need help with the process. They receive more than 1,000 calls a year, according to Wutchiett. A certain version of paid family leave has been in place for almost two decades. However, there is still a need for lawyers who can help people through the process, Rossin-Slater said. That reflects negatively on how the program is being run, she said. “Ideally, people should not have to go to a lawyer to be able to access this benefit.”
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