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Is paid leave an anti-poverty program?

Originally posted here by Scioto Analysis on July 7, 2023. By Rob Moore.

The first months of a child’s life are crucial for her development. Children who have more individualized attention from a caregiver have more of a chance of succeeding down the road. Encouraging parents to spend time taking care of infants could pay dividends for society down the road.

Throughout much of the United States, though, it is hard for parents with careers to do this. According to the New York Times, the United States is one of eight countries in the world with no guarantee of parental leave. The average country guarantees 29 weeks of parental leave and nearly all of Europe plus countries like Iran and Russia guarantee at least 24.

Among U.S. states, paid leave is also rare. Only seven states, five in the northeast and two on the west coast, had implemented paid family and medical leave laws as of June of last year according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Four additional states had enacted legislation but not yet implemented it.

Despite only a smattering of states enacting paid leave guarantees, local governments across the country are considering paid leave as a way to improve working conditions and bolster prospects for children and youth. Because of this dynamic, Scioto analysis is working with the Rise Together Innovation Institute to explore opportunities for expanded parental leave in Franklin County, Ohio.

Lack of parental leave policies put families on the edge of poverty in a difficult position. They have to decide to either have children and not spend time with them in some of their most crucial developmental moments, have children and give up income to spend time with them, or postpone or forgo having children at all.

Putting a robust parental leave program in place can be an effective tool for empowering these families on the edge of poverty. First, they ensure families have resources when they have children and can spend time with those children during key developmental months. Internationally, more extensive parental leave policies correlate with a decreased risk of poverty for both two-parent households and single mothers.

As hinted at the start of this blog post, paid family leave is also an intergenerational policy. Early interactions between parents and infants have a large impact on long-term outcomes for children when it comes to cognitive and social development. Children who enter school and then the workforce with better cognitive and social skills have a leg up in escaping poverty in adulthood. By promoting time between parents and children at the earliest ages, parental leave is a multigenerational anti-poverty program.

Lastly, paid leave laws could be an effective tool for closing the gender wage gap. Since women are more likely than men to take leave, employers could be reducing wages for women to make up for the paid leave they currently provide. Requiring paid leave for all parents could theoretically combat this race to the bottom.

In May, Mayor Justin Bibb of Cleveland proposed a parental leave program that would apply to all city employees with a month of service, giving them 500 hours of parental leave at 100% of salary (20 hours are reserved for prenatal appointments/preadoption appointments). This is more robust than either the City of Columbus or Franklin County’s current policies.

Enacting new paid leave laws could be an effective tool for supporting parents now and children over the trajectory of their lives. And the policy is not only a workforce policy, but also an anti-poverty policy.


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