Expanded Job Protection Improves Racial and Socioeconomic Equity of Parental Leave Access

Principal Investigator
University of California, Berkeley


Paid family and medical leave has important health benefits for parents and their children, but access to job-protected leave is limited and highly disparate in the United States. Increasingly, state and local governments have established policies such as paid leave to support parents and other caregivers. While these policies have been crucial in enabling more workers to take leave, their effects have been weakened due to only partial coverage of job protection laws. As part of their ongoing work evaluating the 2017 San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Ordinance, investigators Julia M. Goodman (Oregon Health & Science University/Portland State University) and William H. Dow (University of California, Berkeley) published an issue brief examining paid leave protections in the California Bay Area.


The research team analyzed a 2016-17 survey of new mothers working in the private sector in the San Francisco Bay Area to estimate the proportion of those new parents who have parental bonding leave job protection under current law, and who could benefit from potential future expansions of job protection laws.   

They found:

  • Parents of color disproportionately lack job protection, especially black mothers: only 58% of non-Hispanic Black parents and 54% of Hispanic parents had access to job protected leave, compared to approximately 70% of non-Hispanic white parents.
  • Working parents with low incomes disproportionately lack job protection: just 42% of Medicaid-covered workers have job protected leave, compared to 71% of higher income workers.
  • Extending job protection to all private firms regardless of employment size would increase the proportion of those protected to 73% for non-Hispanic Black parents and 71% for Hispanic parents.
  • The remaining non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic parents would gain protection if California law were further extended to cover newer and part-time workers.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Expanding job protection to workers at smaller firms has significantly increased access to parental leave. Large disparities remain, however, due to incomplete coverage for employees of firms with fewer than 20 employees, and especially those in newer or part-time jobs. These omissions have disproportionately disadvantaged workers of color and lower-income workers. In September 2020, California took a step toward reducing these disparities through the passage of SB 1383, which expands job protection to include employers with 5 or more employees.

Population Sciences