Americans Want Paid Leave, Until They Realize They Have to Pay for It
Rachel Greszler /
Fully 74 percent of Americans say they support a national paid family leave program that would provide workers with 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for their own or a family member’s illness.
But not if they have to pay for it.
That’s according to a new survey from the Cato Institute that asked a representative sample of 1,700 Americans about their views on paid family leave.
Despite overwhelming support for a paid family leave program not counting its costs, support plummeted when it came to paying for such a program.
In short, Americans don’t support a federal paid leave program if it means higher taxes, higher debt, lower compensation and opportunities, or lower spending on other valued government programs.
At a price tag of $450 more in taxes each year—the minimum cost, for a modest program—fewer than half of Americans (48 percent) supported a national paid leave program.
In reality, however, a national paid leave program would cost much more—as much as $11,000 in new taxes, according to the American Action Forum.
Debt was another thing Americans did not want more of in exchange for paid leave. Only 40 percent of Americans supported paid family leave if it meant higher deficits.
Compared with paying higher taxes and more debt, the Cato study found that Americans were less willing to give up their own personal compensation or to forgo promotions for women.
Only 38 percent supported a federal paid leave policy if it meant lower pay raises for them, and even fewer—29 percent—were willing to exchange such a program for fewer benefits for them or for a reduced likelihood of promotions for women.
That has unfortunately been the case with national paid leave programs.
Americans were least willing to support a federal paid family leave program if it meant giving up other valued government services. Only 21 percent of Americans said they would trade lower funding for education, Social Security, and Medicare in order to implement a national paid family leave program.
Fortunately, paid family leave is on the rise in the U.S. even without a federal program that would require substantial tradeoffs: 20 percent of workers have access to state-based paid family leave programs and 34 percent report having access to employer-provided paid family leave.
The Cato study found a narrow gap between workers who wanted or needed family leave and those who took it: 25 percent said they wanted or needed leave in the past year, and 24 percent said they took it.
Of those who took leave, 75 percent reported receiving either full or partial pay, while 48 percent reported at least some portion of their leave as unpaid.
Paid leave is on the rise in the U.S. Over the past three years, more than 100 large, name-brand companies announced new or expanded paid family leave programs, and the largest 20 employers in the U.S. all provide paid family leave.
Now is not the time to stifle this growth or to crowd out existing policies with a federal paid leave program.
Instead of a federal program, policymakers can help encourage greater access to paid family leave through policies such as the Working Families Flexibility Act, universal savings accounts, and fewer regulations, which would free up business resources to help employers provide paid family leave.
These are things most Americans support.
When asked what single change (of six choices) would best allow workers to balance work and family, 34 percent chose “more flexible work schedules,” compared with only 6 percent who chose “more paid maternity or paternity leave.”
Seventy-eight percent of Americans supported allowing workers to save money, tax-free, to use for family or medical leave.
Paid family leave is something Americans want, but not at the cost of a federal program. Policymakers should encourage more employer-provided programs, rather than stifling them with a federal one.