California Paid Family Leave: Babies still crying, but nary a whimper from businesses

From Early Ed Watch:

This is the second in a series of podcasts this summer on California’s laws for extended-time off, with a special focus on the state’s paid family leave program that enables new parents to take time off from work to bond with their babies.

In this podcast, New America’s David Gray talks with Kate Karpilow, executive director of the California Center for Research on Women and Families, who says the program has thrived despite the initial concerns that it would hurt the business community. One reason may be that the program is paid for through the state’s disabilities fund and therefore does not require businesses to write paychecks to employees on leave. “The sky-is-falling scenarios didn’t pan out,” she says.

Listen here.

NPR: Obama Budget Pushes Paid Leave Programs

When citizen delegates from Washington State converged in Washington DC to urge their representatives to take action on paid family leave and paid sick days, Selena Allen, of Tacoma (whose story we’ve profiled before), and EOI Policy Director Marilyn Watkins were interviewed by NPR reporter Jennifer Ludden:

For millions of Americans, a major illness or family crisis means time off work with no pay. In recent years, several states have passed their own paid leave programs. Half a dozen more are trying but are largely stalled by the bad economy. Now, the Obama administration’s proposed budget aims to encourage states to push ahead.

Paid leave would help people like Selena Allen of Tacoma, Wash. When she found out she was pregnant with her second child, Allen started saving all her vacation and sick days. She hoarded away enough to take one month of maternity leave. Then her son was born a month and a half early. Allen, who worked at a nonprofit at the time, decided she simply couldn’t afford to take any more time off — time that would have been unpaid. She postponed her maternity leave and returned to work a painful four days after giving birth.

California enacted a paid family leave law in 2002, and New Jersey followed suit in 2008. And in 2007, Washington state made headlines when it passed a paid parental leave law. The law would provide new parents up to $250 a week for up to five weeks. Advocates wanted it to include other kinds of family leave, such as major illness, and still hope to broaden it eventually.

But the bigger dilemma was that lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to fund the program. Unlike California and New Jersey, Washington does not have an existing disability insurance program, so it had to create a funding mechanism from scratch. The state set up a task force to do that. Then, says task force member Marilyn Watkins, of the Economic Opportunity Institute, the recession hit.

“A new program, with a new source of funding, in the face of cutting so many other programs, was just not a feasible situation,” Watkins says. Washington state’s paid leave program has been put on hold until 2012, but Watkins hopes the federal government can rescue it sooner.

Read (or listen to) the full story here

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What Washington’s working moms really need for Mother’s Day: Wage equality and family friendly benefits

Washington's Working Women 2010: Progress stalled without new workplace policies

More Washington women are primary breadwinners, but their economic progress has stalled out

This Sunday, thousands of moms will be recognized and appreciated for all they do. But when they go back to work on Monday, neither their wages nor the policies at their workplaces will fully reflect the contributions they make at work or at home.

The Economic Opportunity Institute‘s latest report, Washington’s Working Women 2010, notes the gulf separating men’s and women’s earnings has expanded over the past two decades. Women’s average monthly paychecks were just 63% of men’s in 2008, compared to 67% in 1990. And while benefits like paid sick days and paid family leave are critical for women, who are often the primary caregivers for children and elderly parents, 41% of Washington workers – 1.2 million people – can’t take a paid sick day at work.

Women have experienced fewer job losses since the start of the recession, but inequality on payday has persisted – with men earning substantially higher wages than women in every industry in Washington. And lower wages lead to higher rates of poverty among women, especially for mothers with young children.

Part of the issue is a lack of support for women – and families in general – in most workplaces, says Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and author of the report. Watkins points out that “the U.S. stands alone among economically developed nations in not providing universal paid leave for new parents and setting other minimum standards for paid leave. A paltry 8% of employees in the U.S. receive paid family leave from their employers, and 4 in 10 workers lack paid sick leave.”

For the vast majority of women, there is no slack in the work and family balance equation. The Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993 has helped some families balance their work and family obligations with 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but leaves more than 40% of workers unprotected, and does not cover routine illnesses and preventative care.

Women not only earn lower wages than their male counterparts – they are also less likely than men to receive benefits from their employers, and more likely to work part time or take breaks from employment for family care. According to the report, just over 37% of Washington’s working women are employed part-time, compared to 23.1% of men. But only 13% of Washington employers provide sick leave and retirement plans, and 20% offer vacation, to part time workers.

“Women will not make further gains without universally accessible paid sick leave, paid family leave, and workplace flexibility. Passing laws guaranteeing access to these workplace benefits will be necessary for women to achieve equality at work,” says Watkins.

Read more: Washington’s Working Women 2010