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Business Falls Short on Paid Family Leave, But New York Can Take the Lead

Amy Traub

Today more than a hundred New Yorkers from a host of organizations  will descend on Albany, calling on their elected officials to finally guarantee paid family leave to working people statewide. They’ll argue that for too many New Yorkers, bonding with a new baby or tending to a loved one who is seriously ill is impossible without missing a much-needed paycheck. And the numbers back them up.

In a new brief released today, my colleague Robert Hiltonsmith and I find that 6.4 million working New Yorkers  – 87 percent of the state’s non-farm, private sector workforce – do not receive paid family leave through their employers.

We find that in the retail industry, which employs almost a million workers statewide, 94 percent of employees lack paid family leave. The situation is similar in other low-paying industries, where workers also struggle with low wages and unstable schedules.  And even in high-flying industries like finance and insurance – where New York employer Goldman Sachs recently made headlines by improving the paid leave benefits it offers employees – most employees still don’t get paid family leave.

As we argue in the brief:

Ensuring that the next generation gets a healthy, loving start in life – and that families don’t fall into poverty as they struggle to care for one another in times of sickness – are society-wide challenges, not problems that individual families and businesses can solve on their own. Surveys find that 80 percent of Americans, including 71 percent of Republicans, favor requiring all employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members. Polls of New Yorkers are similarly favorable, with 81 percent of New York City residents (including 80 percent of Republicans) supporting the establishment of a paid family leave insurance system even if it means a dollar a week would be deducted from their own paychecks to fund it.

Public paid family leave insurance has been successfully implemented in California, in neighboring New Jersey, and in Rhode Island, where studies find that they have had little impact on how employers do business, even as working families see substantial benefits.

In New York, Governor Cuomo’s recent move to include paid leave in his executive budget is tremendously encouraging, especially since his plan includes 12 weeks of job-protected leave and coverage of all employers with no exceptions. It's even more exciting that the Governor has reportedly enhanced the wage replacement rate in his original proposal to 2/3 of a worker's average weekly wage. Without at least this rate, lower paid workers would still be unable to afford time with new babies and sick loved ones and New York would remain a place where only higher-income people are able to take time to care for their families.

As Governor Cuomo noted, “You shouldn't have to choose between losing your job and being in debt and being a decent human being.” With a public system that ensures adequate wage replacement for 12 weeks of job-protected leave, New York State can become a leader.