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New York joins a handful of states with family leave. Will other states follow?

Tracey Samuelson Dec 18, 2017
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Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Starting in January 2018, New Yorkers will be able to take paid leave when they give birth or adopt a new baby, or if a family member becomes ill and needs care.

Five states, plus the District of Columbia, now have laws on the books mandating paid family leave, even as the U.S. remains the only wealthy country in the world that doesn’t have a national requirement.

It’s an issue that seems to be getting more traction at the state level, than federal.

“In this past legislative session 31 states had bills introduced,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president of workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women and Families. “Massachusetts has a very active campaign happening. New Hampshire also has an active campaign, as does Vermont.”

Though there’s some variation across states, these paid family leave initiates are typically funded by a small payroll deduction, less than 1 percent of a worker’s salary. In New York, private employees will be able to get up to half of their salary for up to eight weeks next year, though benefits are capped at 50 percent of the average New York State weekly wage, or about $650. By 2021, workers will receive 67 percent of their salary for up to 12 weeks.

Many of the states that currently mandate paid family leave built those initiatives on pre-existing disability programs.

“Basically, they had the infrastructure already developed in their state in order to add on a paid family leave program,” said Angela Rachidi, a research fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “It’s very difficult for states that don’t have a temporary disability assistance program already established to start from scratch a paid family leave program.”

Rachidi thinks that may limit the number of states that pass this kind of legislation. Others are more optimistic.

“We’ve broken out of that box with Washington state,” said Ruth Milkman, a sociologist of labor at the CUNY Graduate Center. “Here’s the thing: these programs are extremely popular politically. All the polls show this, [but] that doesn’t mean it’s easy to legislate it.”

Opponents think family leave should be left to the private sector. Some business groups argue it’s disruptive and costly for employees to take time off, even if employers aren’t paying those wages.

Nationally, a family leave bill has been introduced in Congress this year and the GOP tax plan tries to incentivize private companies to offer paid leave for their employees. Paid family leave made it onto the agendas of both candidates in the 2016 presidential election.

Still, AEI’s Rachidi thinks it’s unlikely Congress will go further.

“It’s still of interest,” she said. “I think the debate, though, is still around how to actually do it and I’m not sure that [enough] progress has been made yet on that front that we’re going to have a national paid leave program any time soon.”

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