From Volume 77, Number 5 (July 2004)
Ten years after the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) was signed into law, paid family leave emerged as the new focal point in the family rights movement. Paid family leave legislation has been proposed in twenty-eight states and momentum is growing. In September 2002, advocates of paid family leave celebrated their first victory. California became the first state in the nation to enact legislation guaranteeing pay to employees taking leave to care for an ill family member. This legislation propelled paid family leave into the national spotlight, sparking debate on both sides of the issue.
Paid family leave advocates argue that the benefit is a necessary response to demographic and cultural changes in the United States. Labor force participation of women with young children has increased dramatically in the past few decades. In 1998, 62% of women with children under three were working, compared to 34% in 1975. Further, the number of children living in single-parent families rose from 12% in 1970 to 28% in 1998. These changes have resulted in a declining share of children living with a parent who is available to care for them full-time. By 1998, only a quarter of all children had one parent staying at home while the other worked. As a result, balancing the demands of work and family has become more challenging, and advocates argue that paid family leave is of increasing importance for working Americans.