Paid family leave is defined by the National Compensation Survey (NCS) as: “leave granted to an employee to care for a family member—including a newborn or adopted child, a sick child or a sick adult relative—in addition to any sick leave, vacation, personal leave or short-term disability leave that might be available.” This definition does include both paternity and maternity leave.
However, only 14 percent of working Americans currently have access to paid family leave. The other 86 percent are provided leave by their employers—but unpaid.
Traditionally, this has been an acceptable status quo. But a number of factors have shifted public opinion regarding paid family leave. Boomers growing older, more women entering the work force, and the push from younger generations for a better work-life balance are among the most prevalent.
- 85 percent of respondents believe that WORKERS should receive paid leave to deal with their own serious health condition
- 82 percent say MOTHERS should receive paid leave following birth or adoption of their child
- 69 percent say FATHERS should receive paid leave following birth or adoption of their child
- 67 percent say WORKERS should receive paid leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition
Now, it should be noted that who should pay for leave is up for debate among respondents. The majority place the responsibility on a person’s employer, but a significant portion of interest is directed towards both the federal and state governments as well.
State governments, in particular, have taken note of this shift in priority. In 2019, around two dozen states are expected to consider proposals that offer paid leave for workers who are ill, or taking care of new or elderly family members. Even well-known swing states like Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine are projected to open debates on the subject. Perhaps even more surprisingly, traditionally conservative states Indiana, Oklahoma, and Nebraska have also seen a push for paid family leave.
Following this trend of bipartisan support of shifting views on paid family leave, Democrats and Republicans on the federal level have also introduced proposals on the matter. Congressional Democrats brought back an old proposal that calls for up to 12 weeks of paid leave, and President Trump has offered his own proposal for 6 weeks of paid leave—both significantly more than the majority of Americans have access to now.
However, despite this, expanding leave is not seen as a top priority among the large majority of working adults. It’s an admirable goal, to be sure, but only 35 percent rank it as a top priority for the president and congress to work on, falling far short of more prevalent issues, such as border security and addressing the ongoing opioid crisis.
Whether or not paid family leave will become more common is yet to be seen, but there can be no denying that most people would be happy to see it do so.