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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia Finds that Low-Income Workers Face a Range of Barriers to Accessing Paid Family Leave Program

Parents say that inadequate information and outreach, a lack of employer support, and a confusing application process discourage their participation in the state of New Jersey’s landmark paid family leave program, according to new research from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. In the absence of federal policy, New Jersey introduced a paid leave insurance program in 2009 and is one of only three states to offer such a worker benefit. By 2014, more than 155,000 workers had used the state’s Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program to bond with a new child or care for an ailing family member. Still, despite strong evidence that paid family leave benefits families in multiple ways, a yearlong study of FLI uptake found significant barriers to accessing the program among low-income working parents.

[Photo: Dr. Renée Wilson-Simmons]

“A high-quality paid family leave program helps parents and children in many ways, and New Jersey should be commended for its leadership on this important issue,” said Dr. Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH, NCCP director. “Workers who are able to take advantage of paid family leave have more time to bond with their newborn babies before returning to work, are better able to meet their families’ basic economic needs and, are more likely to stay employed. New Jersey has taken a vital step to invest in the future of young children and their families but we believe — and parents have told us — that some modest reforms could make FLI work much better for the low-income working parents who need it the most.”

New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance program is funded through an employee payroll tax and provides up to six weeks of paid leave (at two-thirds of an employee’s weekly salary) to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. Paid family leave is particularly important for low-income workers who often lack support systems and savings to withstand a significant loss of income when they need to take leave from work after childbirth or to care for a sick family member. However, surveys suggest that comparatively few of these workers use FLI.

To find out why so few low-income parents file bonding claims under the FLI program and to determine how well FLI works for those who do use the program, the National Center for Children in Poverty conducted the New Jersey Parenting Project, a year-long qualitative study.  In partnership with leading New Jersey policy research and advocacy organizations, NCCP gathered data from focus groups and interviews with 42 low-income parents in metropolitan Newark, Camden, and Trenton, New Jersey.  NCCP’s new policy report, Protecting Workers, Nurturing Families, offers insights from New Jersey parents and recommendations for action that policymakers, employers, community-based organizations, and others can take to ensure that New Jersey’s landmark Family Leave Insurance program works better for the state’s low-income working parents.

These are some of the findings and recommendations from Protecting Workers, Nurturing Families: