How much would family and medical leave cost workers in the US? Racial/ethnic variation in economic hardship under unpaid and paid policies

New article in Community, Work & Family
Published: 12.23.2019 Updated: 01.17.2023


Using a capability approach, this study assesses economic constraints under the current US national unpaid family and medical leave (FML) policy compared to a hypothetical national paid FML policy for all full-year workers. Existing literature documents gender and class differences in barriers to FML use, but there is limited research on racial/ethnic minority workers. Our results indicate that if FML policy changed from unpaid to paid leave, black workers would gain a greater percentage of family income back relative to white workers, due in part to their larger wage contributions to family income. However, moving to a paid FML policy has a lower likelihood of preventing short-term economic hardship for black and Hispanic workers, compared to white workers. Our findings are consistent with studies, of which there are few, that show that paid FML can decrease, but not eliminate, disparities in black and Hispanic working mothers’ capability to take up parental leave and use leave for longer durations. Therefore, further design modifications to FML policy are needed for paid leave to be fully protective of all workers who need to take leave without facing economic hardship.

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Pamela Joshi
Policy Research Director
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Rebecca Huber
Research Associate
headshot of expert Theresa Osypuk
Theresa Osypuk
Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota
Headshot of Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Director, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy