Today too many of us are pushed to the economic brink by bad luck: a car accident, a cancer diagnosis, a premature baby. Even under the best of circumstances, many new parents go back to work before they or their newborn is ready — and face financial and health challenges. And, a growing number of people are caring for their own aging parents.1

If a Washington worker gets a cold or has a sick child at home, paid sick leave helps, but there are times when everyone needs to take extended time off work to take care of themselves or a loved one. When an unexpected health diagnoses comes along or a new child is born, too many workers have to choose between taking unpaid leave or taking care of themselves or their families. Nationally, only 13 percent of private-sector workers — usually high-wage earners — have access to paid family leave at work.2 Among the lowest-wage workers, even fewer have access to extended paid time off. Federal law provides unpaid leave for these circumstances, but fails to protect nearly half of workers.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Other states – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York – have established successful family and disability leave programs that cover workers in companies large and small, from high-wage to minimum-wage workers.

A paid family and medical leave proposal in Washington would allow workers to take extended paid leave for their own health condition, or to take care of a family member, by creating a modest payroll premium that’s shared by employees and business owners — around $2 a week for each. Given the low costs and high benefits of this common-sense policy, it’s no surprise that 72 percent of Washington voters said they would support a paid family and medical leave policy in Washington.3

All of us – especially women, babies, and elders – are paying a high price for the status quo. Currently, new parents have to cobble together time to nurture their newborn, using saved-up vacation time and sick leave, and taking unpaid time when that runs out. Despite the fact that public health experts have found clear links between expanding paid maternity leave and improved health outcomes for newborns, including a reduction in infant mortality rates, the United States remains the only industrial country in the world without paid maternity leave.4 Federal policy provides only 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new baby or the serious health condition of a worker or family member, but almost half of all employees aren’t even covered.

Other states — California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York — have established successful family and disability leave programs that cover workers in companies large and small, from high-wage to minimum-wage workers. After California and New Jersey passed their policies, a majority of business owners reported positive or neutral experiences.5 Paid family and medical leave provides insurance so the employers don’t have to cover the full cost of an employee’s leave themselves. That allows smaller companies to better compete, and gives them the flexibility to add hours for other employees or bring on additional help when someone goes out on leave. More than 20 percent of American workers are already covered by these highly successful programs. We can make paid family and medical leave successful in Washington state, too!

Everyone does. Paid family and medical leave would mean Washington moms and dads can stay home longer with a newborn baby or newly-adopted child, which pediatricians have long linked to better, healthier outcomes for parents and kids. Workers would also have time to take care of themselves or a loved one during life’s unexpected emergencies — an injury, surgery or new diagnosis. Children, elders, and people of all ages recover faster from serious health conditions and have fewer complications and re-hospitalizations when loved ones are present, receive doctor’s instructions, and can assist with follow up care.6 Paid family and medical leave would also have a disproportionately positive impact on people of color, who because of systemic economic and racial barriers make up a greater proportion of lower-wage workers — of whom only 3 percent have access to paid family and medical leave.7

  1. “The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving.” AARP Public Policy Institute. 2011.
  2. “Leave benefits: Access, private industry workers.” Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Benefits Survey. March 2016.
  3. “Washington Paid Leave: Findings from a Survey of 529 Registered Voters Statewide.” Lake Research Partners. March 2016.
  4. “Population Health and Paid Parental Leave: What the United States Can Lean from Two Decades of Research.” Department of Health Services, School of Public Health, University of Washington. Published in Healthcare, June 2016.
  5. “DOL Factsheet: Paid Family and Medical Leave.” U.S. Department of Labor. June 2015.
  6. “Health Impact Review of SB 5459.” Washington State Board of Health. August 2015.
  7. “Leave benefits: Access, private industry workers.” Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Benefits Survey. March 2016.