Monday, March 17, 2008
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Senate approved a paid family leave bill, in which New Jersey would join California and Washington in providing up to six weeks of partial pay for workers who take time off to care for a new baby or sick relative. The benefits would be funded by a payroll deduction, much like unemployment insurance. The bill still needs to be approved by the state Assembly and signed by Governor Corzine.
These kinds of leave policies seem an important step to allowing both women and men to take the leave provided. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, only 31% of people take FMLA leave (which is unpaid) to care for a seriously ill family member, and only 18% take leave to care for a new child. The majority of people who take the leave take it for their own serious health problem. Of those who didn't take leave when they were eligible, a vast majority did not do so because the leave is unpaid. Often, in heterosexual married couples, the decision about which partner will take leave to care for a relative or new child is made based on which one will suffer the lesser workplace penalty--which one earns less or won't violate the employer's norms as much by taking the leave. Men have a harder time, often, justifying the leave. And to the extent that gender neutral leave policies are designed to break the stereotypes of women as caregivers, providing pay during that time might make it less of a penalty for men to take leave. And if more men take leave, maybe the stereotype that reduces women to their reproductive and caregiving capacities will actually be eroded.