By Katie Anderson
Since 1993, the United States federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has given most U.S. employees across companies and organizations with a 50 employee minimum access to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected, parental, family, caregiver, personal, medical, and military exigency leave. The map on the left, produced by the Bipartisan Policy Center, showcases the status of paid family leave (PFL) laws by state.
The United States does not guarantee PFL at the federal level, making it one of only six countries in the world to not adopt a national paid parental leave policy. Instead, legislation pertaining to paid family leave is determined at the individual state level. Currently, there are 11 states including the District of Columbia that have passed legislation establishing PFL programs. The state programs and their adopted dates are: California (2004), New Jersey (2009), Rhode Island (2014), New York (2018), Washington (2019/2020), District of Columbia (2020), Massachusetts (2019/2021), Connecticut (2021/2022), Oregon (2023), Colorado (2023/2024), Maryland (2023/2025), and Delaware (2025/2026). 11 other states have introduced PFL legislation, but have not been passed as law. Eight of the ten existing programs match the federal unpaid leave’s 12 weeks, but California only allows for eight weeks of parental leave and Rhode Island only five. The states offering up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave still fall short of global recommendations – the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Maternity Protection Convention mandated in 2000 a minimum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends expenses for child care should not exceed 7% of a household’s income, however as of 2020, the average cost exceeds more than 10% of the median income for married couples, and more than 35% of the median income for single parents. Increased averages in the cost of childcare outpaces national inflation levels by more than 3%. Most parents cannot afford to take unpaid time off, forcing families to decide between returning to work before medically recommended or leaving the workforce entirely. Access to PFL has shown to be beneficial for reducing financial stress, increasing physical and mental health, and improving stability for the entire familial unit.