Children Now Insider: Paid Family Leave

Shared prosperity means putting families first

By Angela Rothermel and Maria Mejia

November 25, 2019

Children Now® Insider: Stories, News, And Insights On Children’s Advocacy

For more information on our blog, contact Adrienne Bell at [email protected]

According to the 2019 KIDS COUNT® Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, California ranks 35th nationally on children’s well-being. Though California is an extremely prosperous state with a growing economy and diverse population, many families are left out of this prosperity. Our state falls near the bottom (46th) for children’s economic well-being, with 18 percent of children living in poverty – a number that has remained persistently stagnant since 1990.

We know that systemic barriers like unequal access to education and economic opportunity, and structural barriers like institutional racism perpetuate intergenerational poverty and keep many families in poverty. The opportunity for state leaders, however, is that smart public policy can improve circumstances for millions of California families by employing whole-child, two-generation approaches. Two-generation approaches boost both children and the adults in their lives, resulting in better outcomes for the entire family.

Paid family leave is an excellent example of a two-generation program, which can benefit both adults and children.

Paid family leave policies …

  • Can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10 percent;
  • Increase the likelihood of infants getting well-baby care visits and vaccinations, children were 25.3 and 22.2 percent more likely to get their measles and polio vaccines, respectively, when their mother had access to paid maternity leave;
  • Increase the rate and duration of breast-feeding. Women who had paid leave breast-fed twice as long as women who did not take leave;
  • Can lead to extended mental health benefits over time. Women who were exposed to a more generous maternity leave policy were 18% less likely to suffer from depression 30 years later when they were 50 or older; and
  • Have overwhelming support from voters: a 2017 Pew study found that 82 percent of Americans supported paid leave for mothers after a birth or adoption.

California was the first state to enact paid family leave for most workers in 2002, and since then has taken positive steps to make paid family leave affordable and accessible for all families, including recently increasing the duration of paid leave from six to eight weeks for new parents, with the pledge to move to three months by 2022. But this is not enough. California should increase paid family leave to six months to give parents time to care for their baby during the first few months of life, at a time that brings many changes to a household and is so critical for establishing the strong parent-child bond that fuels children’s brain development.

California policy currently allows workers to receive an amount equal to 60 to 70 percent of their wages when they take time off of work to care for a newborn or adopted baby, but low-income families, single-parent households and families of color are much less likely to utilize paid family leave as it currently exists, meaning that it is largely a reality only for higher-income families. Wage replacement, especially for low-income families, must not place them at greater economic hardship. Wage replacement policies that don’t reduce earnings during leave will mean that parents won’t have to choose between taking leave and providing for their family.

By investing in programs that benefit kids and their parents, California can become a state where everyone benefits from its immense wealth and opportunity and no one is left behind.

To see stories and videos from real California families about why paid family leave matters to them, please visit Thanks to the California Work & Family Coalition for this information.