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Americans Divided on Family Leave Policy and Who Should Pay For It, According to New Survey


None of the family leave bills in Congress are supported by a majority of Americans; many say employers should shoulder the cost

Published on September 12, 2019

A national poll on the American family released today found that while Americans generally support a national family leave policy, particularly for maternity leave, they don’t want new government programs or changes to Social Security to fund it. The poll also found that of the four family leave bills currently in Congress, none has the support of the majority of Americans.

With paid family leave becoming more of a concern for working parents, the fifth annual American Family Survey looked at who takes family leave, what Americans want and how they feel about the proposed legislation. It also found that lower-income Americans are less likely to have access to paid leave, less likely to return to their same jobs after taking a leave, and more likely to say they would have taken family leave in the past year if it had been available to them.

“Americans, in general, support the idea of paid family leave but differ on how it should be funded,” said Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson. “Moreover, few support the current proposed legislation, which would indicate that the bills’ sponsors have an uphill battle. As Congress considers the issue of family leave, the American Family Survey provides some interesting insight into how people view maternity leave, paternity leave and other leaves of absence that support family members.”

The survey found that:

  • Income does not seem to be a barrier to taking family leave, as similar percentages of low-, middle- and high-income Americans say they have recently taken at least a week or more of time away for family reasons.
  • The family leave experience differs substantially by income, however. Low-income workers are far less likely than others to be offered paid leave. When their employers do offer pay, it covers a lower percentage of their typical income. In addition, lower-income workers are less likely to return to the same job at the end of their leave period.
  • These income-based trends also appear to have some racial/ethnic implications, as these differences in access to paid leave seem to bear unequally hard on black and Hispanic Americans.
  • Americans of all different political perspectives are highly supportive of paid time off from work when a new child is born, but there is less agreement about the obligation to provide leave — especially paid leave — in other circumstances. For example, Democrats are more supportive than Republicans of providing paid family leave beyond maternity and paternity leave. They also favor longer periods of leave than do Republicans.

The survey also asked about four proposed bills currently in Congress – the CRADLE Act proposed by Republicans Mike Lee and Joni Ernst; the New Parents Act, supported by Republican Mitt Romney; the FAMILY Act sponsored by Democrat Rosa DeLauro; and the Working Parents Flexibility Act proposed by Republican John Katko – and found that no single proposal has the support of a majority of Americans. The poll did not reveal which bills are sponsored by Republicans or Democrats. Survey respondents were especially pessimistic about proposals to pay for family leave by borrowing against Social Security benefits. In general, Americans opposed both higher taxes and changes to existing entitlement programs in order to pay for family leave. The most popular option for paying for family leave involved tax breaks for companies who voluntarily provide time off for family-related needs.

The American Family Survey is an annual, nationwide study of 3,000 Americans by the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University and conducted by YouGov. Now in its fifth year, the survey seeks to understand the experiences of Americans in their relationships, marriages, and families, and how those experiences relate to a variety of public policy issues.

These results, along will the full report and survey methodology, are available at deseretnews.com/american-family-survey

SOURCE Deseret News
Associate Writer