Data in action: Working toward paid family and medical leave for all

Published: 12.16.2019 Updated: 01.21.2020

Q&A with Jessica Mason, Senior Policy Analyst and Engagement Manager, and Laura Meyer, Workplace Program Assistant, National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help all people meet the dual demands of work and family.

Q: How do you use data in your work?

Data is essential to our work. We’re advocating for evidence-based policies, so we need data to identify what the problems are and to understand the impact of different proposed solutions. The National Partnership helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides unpaid leave, 27 years ago, and we’ve been working ever since to figure out what paid leave would look like nationally.

Demographic data are especially important for lawmakers who are crafting a paid leave policy, because different policy choices would affect who is covered. For example, deciding to exempt small businesses from a paid leave policy would disproportionately affect black and Hispanic workers, because they are more likely to be employed by smaller employers, to have lower wage jobs and not to be covered by employers’ policies. This means that black and Hispanic workers are more likely to fall into poverty after a long unpaid leave—creating a double burden. Having demographic breakdowns helps policymakers understand the impact of different policy choices on actual people.

Q: How is diversitydatakids.org's FMLA data unique?

Unfortunately, there’s very limited state level data on the FMLA. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted three surveys in 25 years, and these surveys provide national statistics only. Our ability to figure out who’s covered, who has access to family and medical leave, how that breaks down by geography, racial/ethnic group and gender is very limited. diversitydatakids.org’s data allows us to see the limitations of FMLA and how those limitations interact with people’s income levels. We use the data to talk about racial equity and the gendered effects of FMLA, as well as to examine differences between states.

diversitydatakids.org’s data allows us to see the limitations of FMLA and how those limitations interact with people’s income levels.

Q: What do you do with our data?

We use data to inform and educate a wide range of audiences, but especially federal policymakers. diversitydatakids.org’s estimates on the share of people who experience economic hardship if they access unpaid leave were really eye-opening for members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is considering paid family and medical leave proposals such as the FAMILY Act. Seeing the data helps policymakers understand the impact of policies on their constituents.

The share of people who fall into poverty if they take unpaid leave is data that wouldn’t normally be captured in another survey tool—your website is the only place that has this analysis. And we love the fact that your data are freely available to everyone. We often do the legwork for partners and lawmakers, but anyone can go to your site, export the data and incorporate it into their own analysis.

Q: Why is having state level data important?

Lawmakers really want to know what’s going on with their own constituents. They are more likely to act if they can understand the impact something will have in their home state or district.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data are national and broken down into regions—northeast, southeast; other data are organized by census tract—neither of these geographies matches elected officials’ constituencies.

Having state level data means that we can say “if we had a national paid leave policy we could cut by X percent the number of people in your state who fall into poverty when they need time away from work to care for family members”—that really gets a response. The same is true for data on people who aren’t covered by FMLA at all: these are some really stark figures that get people’s attention, especially if they’re not familiar with the issue already.

Lawmakers...are more likely to act if they can understand the impact something will have in their home state or district.
Learn more about the FMLA
Nomi Sofer
Nomi Sofer
Senior Communications Strategist