Summarizes some of the research on the effects, outcomes, distribution, and characteristics of work-family supports for low-income families, while also outlining existing policies and proposals for expansion.

“This paper explores four areas of work-family policy with particular relevance for the wellbeing of low-income working parents and their families: (1) unpaid family and medical leave, (2) paid parental or family leave (extended leave), (3) paid sick leave (short-term leave), and (4) workplace flexibility or initiatives to expand employees’ control over work shifts, hours, and other circumstances of their jobs.

It addresses supports that can be encouraged or required by public policy and/or provided by employers. It focuses primarily on work-linked policies for parents—particularly lower-income parents—to help support the development and wellbeing of their children, with some attention to the implications of policies for employers and the broader public. These policies are generally under the jurisdiction at the federal level of the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. Policies linked to child and family wellbeing are also of special interest to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has federal jurisdiction over many family support programs, and places a particular emphasis on support for vulnerable children and their parents in the early years of life.

The paper briefly summarizes recent research on the effects, outcomes, distribution, and characteristics of work-family supports, and describes existing policies and major proposals for expansion. It is not a comprehensive review; rather it highlights findings with particular relevance for federal policy” (p.v).

“Section I provides an overview of the paper’s purposes and approach. Section II reviews the research on the relationship between work-family policies and child, family, employer, and public wellbeing, with a focus on low-income families. Section III presents the evidence on access to work-family supports, particularly among lower-wage workers. Section IV describes work-family policies at the federal, state, and local levels, and through employer action. Section V summarizes recent proposals to expand work-family supports, and Section VI summarizes the paper’s main findings and proposes next steps for research. The Bibliography provides citations for the research the paper uses and, where possible, web links to the references. The Appendix provides a table with additional information on the federal, state, and local policies the paper cites, as well as selected international policies; it too provides web links to the sources used” (p. vii.).

(Abstractor: Author)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Recent research indicates that work-family policies can have positive effects on child wellbeing, parents’ incomes and job stability, employers’ productivity, and public health. Paid parental leave at the birth of a child is associated with longer leave-taking by mothers and fathers, lower rates of infant mortality and longer breastfeeding. Paid parental leave and paid sick leave are associated with increased job retention and wages among workers. Flexible workplace initiatives have resulted in greater worker productivity and reduced turnover. Finally, the lack of paid sick leave, especially for lower-wage jobs such as those in food service, appears to have contributed to the spread of communicable illness among the public. Many of these effects appear to be particularly prevalent for lower-income working parents and their families. But key work-family supports are less available in the U.S. than in other developed nations, or in many developing nations. Further, access is highly skewed by wage levels and other job characteristics in ways that mean the lowest income families tend to have the least access to all types of work-family benefits. Though specific data sources indicate somewhat different rates of access to different types of supports, the evidence of highly uneven access is clear and consistent. Unpaid leave is the most available of work-family benefits, while paid parental leave (beyond paid sick, vacation, or other leave) and flexible work conditions are typically the least available. Work-family policies have been implemented in the U.S. in a piecemeal fashion over time through social insurance, employer mandates, and encouragement of voluntary employer provision. The federal FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] provides rights to unpaid leave to an estimated 59 percent of American workers, and about a quarter of states have their own unpaid leave statutes extending FMLA’s protections. Five states provide paid leave at childbirth through state TDI [Temporary Disability Insurance] systems, two states have implemented additional paid parental/family leave programs, another has begun implementation, and a fourth has enacted but not implemented such a program. Seven cities and one state have enacted paid sick leave mandates on employers, and one state and one city recently enacted ‘right to request flexibility’ laws mandating a process by which employers must consider employees’ requests for different work arrangements. Most flexibility initiatives, however, are purely voluntary for employers” (p.29). (Abstractor: Author)