"Mommy, I don't feel good." "Honey, it's time to go to the hospital." When working parents, or parents-to-be, hear these phrases, their anxiety levels often increase. Not only because their children are sick or their partners are in labor, but also because they will have to find a way to keep their jobs while tending to their families' needs. Maternity and paternity leave, along with vacation, sick leave, and personal leave, help workers balance their responsibilities at home and at the office. This brief uses new data from the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF) to portray which working parents have access to paid and maternity/paternity leave.
Although federal law guarantees job-protected, unpaid family leave to many workers, only three in five American workers are eligible to take this leave (Cantor et al. 2001). Moreover, no state or federal legislation requires employers to provide paid leave of any kind. Because access to leave is not universal, some caregivers do not fully realize the benefits of job-protected leave, namely job security and some flexibility to care for children.
This analysis examines whether access to leave differs by socioeconomic characteristics. The data suggest that the majority of working parents can take maternity or paternity leave from their jobs. Although access to maternity/paternity leave varies with measures of economic well-being, it is much more equal than access to paid leave. Most poor workers, working welfare recipients, and working recent welfare leavers cannot take paid leave from their jobs. And those who can take paid leave typically have fewer days of paid leave than nonpoor workers or workers with no recent welfare experience. The relatively even distribution of access to maternity and paternity leave, compared with the uneven access to paid leave, could be an effect of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).