- As our society relies on the health and capability of families right now, policymakers should consider future measures that strengthen families, particularly in their childrearing role. Tweet This
- A paid family leave proposal should primarily be designed with child welfare, rather than parental labor outcomes or fertility achievement, in mind. Tweet This
Editor's Note: The following essay is a summary of A Child-Focused Paid Parental Leave Policy for the U.S., a new policy brief published today by the Institute for Family Studies and the Center for Public Justice.
A highly contagious coronavirus has led communities to shutter businesses, schools, and public places, requiring families to undertake multiple roles at once: caregivers, educators, and workers. As our society relies on the health and capability of families right now, policymakers should consider future measures that strengthen families, particularly in their childrearing role.
Prior to and during the COVID-19 crisis, politicians on both sides of the aisle recognized the need for a better family leave policy in America. In March, Congress secured emergency paid leave policy for families affected by COVID-19, including the closure of hundreds of thousands of schools and places of childcare. Once the crisis subsides, policymakers should look again at more permanent approaches to providing paid family leave.
Family leave policies can be structured in widely divergent ways and aimed at very different ends. With a proliferation of proposals, it is vital that policymakers make evidence-based decisions with clear pathways to implementation and reasonable expectations of achieving specific policy outcomes. In order to have a family leave policy that fits such a demanding criteria, it is important to first survey existing literature to identify the range of effects that policymakers might expect to see from an expansion in paid family leave. This paper does so with a focus on paid parental leave, a topic that has garnered a sizeable body of research.
Across the academic literature on family leave policies, especially maternity or paternity leave for new children, a variety of outcomes have been identified. There are four kinds of policy outcomes from family leave that are the focus of this report as they are of interest to policymakers and well-identified in academic research: improvements in child welfare and health, increases in achievement of fertility desires, increases in parental connection to gainful employment, and improvements in marital stability.
In general, parental leave benefits provided in the first weeks of a child’s life have been most clearly shown to benefit child health and maternal attachment to work, with more mixed proof for impacts on marital stability, parental employment, and fertility achievement. Because benefits for child well-being are much more clearly demonstrated than other potential outcomes, a paid family leave proposal should primarily be designed with child welfare, rather than parental labor outcomes or fertility achievement, in mind.
The best policy design to achieve these goals is a simple, flat, cash benefit valued at approximately $600 per week per newborn or adopted child. The benefit should be delivered in monthly checks, with 18 weeks of guaranteed paid leave available with each child. Parents should be able to allocate these weeks of leave between themselves as they see fit, provided that all weeks claimed are taken by a legal parent or guardian with sufficient work history to be eligible for the benefit, and provided that that parent does in fact co-reside with the child and remain home from work for the duration of the leave claimed.
This program structure is well-designed to guarantee that public resources are focused on ensuring that all children benefit from the direct engagement, care, and bonding of at least one and ideally two of their parents, and that every child’s first weeks of life are free of unnecessary material deprivation. As a result of this proposed policy, parental care time will likely rise in the first weeks of life, infant and maternal illness, hospitalization, morbidity, and mortality will decline, and various measures of child development at higher ages may eventually show some modest improvements. This policy may also improve marital stability and help families achieve their fertility and career aspirations; however, these benefits are not as certain.
Continue reading the full policy brief here . . . .