Aaand we're back!
Diving into data on paid family leave in America
Happy New Year. I’m excited for a new year with more data, more learning, and more questions (as always, submit yours here).
I’m returning from a summer break that rolled into maternity leave. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity my family and I had to recover, rest, and bond. However, most Americans aren’t so lucky.
There is no federal requirement for paid family leave in America. (Unpaid maternity leave is required by law for most individuals, and some states and cities, like D. C., have their own policies to facilitate paid leave). The vast majority of women in the U.S. face no financial support to recover from an incredibly physical, emotional, and expensive health procedure. Their partners, whose lives are also upended, are even less likely to receive paid leave.
The first step to policy change is understanding the starting point. This post will explore the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Benefits Survey, a survey which captures the variation of paid family leave opportunities, as well as other employee benefits, throughout the country.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the branch of the U.S. Labor Department responsible for measuring varying aspects of the labor force—unemployment rate, occupational trends, and working conditions. The Labor Department uses this data to assist the government and private businesses with decision making and economic projections.
The website has a lot of free, easy to access, and readable data. Ex: this page allows you to download spreadsheets on salary by region, productivity trends, or inflation. The BLS also prepares reports analyzing timely policy questions. Current and archived databases are publicly available, often for download in Excel spreadsheet form. The BLS works in tandem with the U.S. Census.
Employee Benefits Survey
The BLS Employee Benefits Survey looks at one aspect of the labor force: paid leave and employee benefits.
How many employees work from home? What are the differences in vacation days or insurance premiums? All answered with this data.
Some helpful terms:
Civilian workers includes private sector and state and local government workers. Excludes the military and federal workers.
Private industry workers are just private sector employees (civilian - state and local government)
The BLS also includes other measures important for survey data (refresher on survey data here):
Standard error tells us how much variation there is across a given measure.
And margin of error measures the accuracy of the results.
Data on Family Leave
Information on family leave (paid and unpaid) starts with Table 33 in the far right column. The BLS currently defines family leave as any leave (maternity or paternity) to care for a new child (biological or adopted).
Unpaid family leave is offered to the majority of employees, as required by law (89 percent). Paid family leave however is only offered, on average, for 23 percent of employees.
Other notable trends on paid family leave indicate that socioeconomic inequalities are further exacerbated by who has access to paid family leave:
Managerial positions (“white collar”) are more likely to have paid leave than service, sales, construction, and production positions.
Insurance is the sector with the highest likelihood of paid leave (49%), while hospitality, food services, and “administrative and waste services” are tied for the lowest (9%).
The highest earners (top ten percent) have the highest rate of paid leave (43%). Only 12 percent of workers in the lowest wage quartile had access to paid leave.
The larger the company, the higher the likelihood of paid family leave.
The Middle Atlantic region has the highest average of paid leave (31%), while the East South Central has the lowest (19%).
Unfortunately, this data only tells us how many employees have access to paid leave—not what the paid leave looks like. Using other surveys to fill in the blank, the average maternity leave in the U. S. is estimated to be 10 weeks, with women using a combination of unpaid leave and paid leave (like vacation days or sick days).
But what the BLS does confidently tell us is that majority of women in America do not have access to any paid family leave. This has serious mental and economic implications for the entire family. At the most basic level, time is needed to physically heal: the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend six weeks paid leave at minimum (the American Public Health Association and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 12).
How does the U.S. compare to other countries?
When compared to the rest of the developing world, America ranks at the bottom for family support. While not every country provides a full salary, many do. You can see the length of paid leave and the amount of payment for each OECD and EU country here.
The United States is the only country in this list with zeros across the board.
Sure, I’ll try: As documented by the BLS, even though no significant policy changes have been made, employers have proactively improved over the past 20 years.
From the BLS’s report on paid leave:
But note, even at the high end, only ~25 percent of state and local government workers have access to paid family leave. Comparing that to 100 percent in other countries is difficult to spin.
This sad reality is an important first step in understanding true lack of support provided American families. But beyond paid leave, BLS survey data provides individuals with free, accessible information about the state of the workforce. I encourage you to use this data to leverage an improved work environment—whether it be paid leave, working from home, or retirement benefits—for yourself and others.