Amer­i­cans con­flicted on paid leave

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - ©2017 The New York Times

Most peo­ple say work­ers should get paid leave to take care of a baby, a sick fam­ily mem­ber or them­selves, ac­cord­ing to two new sur­veys. But they dis­agree on the de­tails: who should pay, and whether it should be manda­tory or op­tional.

The idea of a fed­eral paid leave pol­icy brings up is­sues that Amer­i­cans have com­pli­cated feel­ings about — like gov­ern­ment man­dates for busi­nesses and gen­der roles at home — ac­cord­ing to the sur­veys, re­leased this week by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

This am­biva­lence helps ex­plain a para­dox: why a pol­icy with so much bi­par­ti­san sup­port has failed to be en­acted. The U.S. is the only in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­try that doesn’t man­date paid leave.

Yet the sur­veys make clear that the need crosses in­come, gen­der and po­lit­i­cal lines, and af­fects peo­ple’s ca­reer de­ci­sions and wages.

Ninety-four per­cent of re­spon­dents said paid leave would help fam­i­lies, and 65 per­cent said it would help the econ­omy.

Amer­i­can work­ers now get 12 weeks of un­paid leave through the Fam­ily and Med­i­cal Leave Act, but only about 60 per­cent are el­i­gi­ble. Thir­teen per­cent of work­ers get paid leave from their em­ploy­ers, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics. High earn­ers are much more likely to get it, while low earn­ers are more likely to fall into poverty be­cause of a birth or an ill­ness.

Large ma­jori­ties sup­port paid leave — be­tween 67 per­cent and 85 per­cent, de­pend­ing on the type of leave — ac­cord­ing to the Pew re­port, which in­cluded two na­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive on­line sur­veys of 8,000 Amer­i­cans to­tal. One sur­vey was about peo­ple’s gen­eral opin­ions about fam­ily leave, and the other about their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences with it.

But Amer­i­cans are torn about the gov­ern­ment’s role. Only half of peo­ple over­all and one-third of Repub­li­cans think it should man­date leave, ver­sus con­tin­u­ing to let em­ploy­ers de­cide. Sixty-nine per­cent of Democrats sup­ported a gov­ern­ment man­date.

The de­bate over fam­ily leave seems to have moved on from whether moth­ers should work to how to help work­ing fam­i­lies, and peo­ple are in­creas­ingly likely to think of care­giv­ing as a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Most peo­ple said a paid leave pol­icy should be avail­able to both sexes. Opin­ions about pa­ter­nity leave il­lus­trate the shift: 82 per­cent of adults un­der 30 said new fathers should get it, and 55 per­cent of those over 65.

De­spite the en­thu­si­asm for paid leave, there is dis­agree­ment about how to pay for it.

The most pop­u­lar idea was a tax credit to em­ploy­ers who of­fered leave, strongly or some­what sup­ported by 87 per­cent of re­spon­dents. Next was pre­tax sav­ings ac­counts for em­ploy­ees to save for leave, sup­ported by 84 per­cent.

Sixty-two per­cent of peo­ple at least some­what sup­ported a gov­ern­ment fund that em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees pay into — a pol­icy used in three states. Least pop­u­lar, with 60 per­cent sup­port, was a gov­ern­ment paid leave pro­gram fi­nanced through higher taxes on wealthy peo­ple or cor­po­ra­tions.

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