Only 42 percent of women in the United States receive any time off to care for a child, and this number is even lower for women in the low-wage workforce. By some estimates, 75 percent of low-wage workers have no paid sick days available and therefore face a heavy financial burden or risk of being fired if they need to care for an ill family member. Although national interest in paid family leave is high, national-level programs benefit only a small percentage of the workforce, and few states have enacted more comprehensive family leave legislation.
California, however, has taken the lead in passing family leave legislation, and the state’s Paid Family Leave Act (PFLA) provides for up to six weeks of income support (at a percentage of salary) for most workers who need to take time off in order to have a child or care for a seriously ill family member. Early research has shown that the program enjoys overwhelming public support, yet state data show that rates of use have been lower than predicted. In 2004, between the passage of California’s PFLA and its implementation, Eileen Appelbaum (Rutgers University) and Ruth Milkman (University of California, Los Angeles) collected survey data and conducted on-site case studies with employers and employees about how they dealt with “leave-triggering events” that would later be covered by PFLA. With support from the Foundation, Appelbaum and Milkman conducted a follow up to this survey by interviewing California employers and employees about these issues now that PFLA has been in place for five years.