The New York Times
Catching Up on Family Values
EDITORIAL, nytimes.com on the Web, February 26, 2008
Members of Congress
and state legislatures talk about family values. But
unlike those in other developed countries, they have not done
much to help workers with new babies or sick family members.
The New Jersey Legislature is in position to become just the
third state to address this problem.
Only California and Washington have laws mandating paid family
leave, and Washington’s benefits are not scheduled to take
effect until next year. The New York State Assembly passed
a family leave bill in June that is bottled up in the
But a bill approved by a Senate committee in Trenton would
extend up to six weeks of paid leave to workers to care for a
newborn or newly adopted child, or a sick child, spouse,
domestic partner or parent. The full Senate and Assembly
should approve the bill, which Gov. Jon S. Corzine says he would
The cost, an increase of less than $1 in payroll taxes, seems
reasonable, and so do the benefits. Workers would get
two-thirds of their pay, up to a maximum of about $520 a week.
To mollify business groups who blocked the legislation last
year, the authors scaled down the original plan of 10 weeks of
paid leave. The bill also contains no guarantee that
workers in companies with fewer than 50 employees would get
their jobs back after a leave.
Federal law requires employers of 50 or more workers to give up
to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, which is of little use to
low-paid workers, or even many middle-income workers who live
paycheck to paycheck. Business groups argue that paid
leave would encourage significantly more workers to take time
off and that replacing them would be too burdensome for small
However, a legislative study in California suggests these fears
may be unfounded. During the first year of the program,
which took effect in 2004, only about 1 percent of the eligible
employees filed for benefits — a number that has not increased
significantly since. Employees in workplaces of fewer than
10 people took leave in much smaller proportions than those in
large workplaces. Large majorities of those who took paid
leave were women, and about 80 percent of the men and women
receiving paid leave did so to spend time with newborns or newly
adopted children. A majority of the remaining workers took
leave because a family member suffered from cancer or was
recovering from surgery.
A survey by the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy
reports that 169 countries offer mothers paid maternal leave and
66 offer new fathers paid leave. Thirty-nine nations grant
paid leave to workers whose children are ill, and 23 offer it to
employees to care for other family members.
It’s time for more states in America to follow suit.
Better yet, Congress should make paid family leave national
policy. Elected officials would then be in a better
position to talk about the importance of the family without