Can San Francisco’s Paid Parental Leave Ordinance Help Close the Gap for Low-income Families?

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Since 2004, California’s state disability insurance program has provided six weeks of parental leave at 55 percent pay (in addition to typically 6-8 weeks of postpartum disability leave for biological mothers, also at 55 percent pay). However, many parents—especially those of lower-income—cannot afford to take this bonding leave at only partial pay. San Francisco’s new Paid Parental Leave Ordinance (PPLO) addresses this issue by requiring San Francisco employers to supplement up to 100% pay for six weeks of parental bonding leave.

Building on an existing analysis of the effects of PPLO on parental leave-related outcomes and the impact on local employers, the research team will use new survey data as well as administrative data from the California State Employment Development Department to investigate:

  1. What types of employers are experiencing increased leave-taking?
  2. To what extent is PPLO providing financial protection for the most vulnerable families, such as low-income families with premature infants hospitalized for extended stays in the neonatal intensive care unit?

Measuring leave-taking across individuals at different earnings levels, as well as across firm characteristics such as size and industry, provides a much more robust ability to test whether low-income workers are benefiting, as well as to test for ongoing barriers to leave-taking in certain types of employers. Additionally, the analysis will explore remaining unmet needs under a policy providing (only) six weeks of fully paid leave.

Evidence

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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.

Paid family leave policies have the potential to reduce health disparities, yet access to paid leave remains limited and unevenly distributed in the United States. The US is the only OECD country that does not provide paid leave for new parents, and just 8 states and the District of Columbia have passed partially-paid family leave policies. In a new paper, Julia Goodman of the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, Will Dow of UC Berkeley, and Holly Elser of Stanford University examine the impact of the 2017 San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Ordinance (PPLO), the first in the US to provide parental leave with full pay. 

In a new issue brief examining the 2017 San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Ordinance, Julia M. Goodman, William H. Dow and Holly Elser find little evidence that implementing new paid family leave policies or expanding existing policies negatively affects employers.