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New Poll Shows Paid Family Leave Can Strengthen and Grow the Workforce

The Brief

NOTE: This poll will be discussed at the beginning of today’s Bipartisan Policy Center event at 2:00pm on May 6th, Women in the Workforce: Supporting Work and Caregiving During the Pandemic and Beyond. Click here to register.

A new Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult poll shows the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a massive impact on the workforce as millions of workers have reduced the hours they work or stopped working altogether due to caregiving responsibilities. Parents with young children, as well as Black and Hispanic caregivers, have been impacted the hardest. Caregivers who have access to paid family leave (PFL) benefits have been better able to manage work and caregiving, while those who are not working or working fewer hours said paid family leave would make them more likely to return to work or to work more.

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Over 10 Million Cite Caregiving as a Reason They Stopped Working

The poll found that of people who stopped working during the pandemic, 15% – or 10.6 million workers – said that caregiving responsibilities was a cause. Among those who reduced their hours, 16% – 11.7 million workers – cited caregiving as a reason. With workers who stopped working and did not look for new work, 8% to 11% cited caregiving as a cause. This suggests that 3.4 to 4.6 million workers dropped out of the labor force during COVID-19 at least in part due to caregiving.

Parents with Young Children Severely Affected

71% of parents with children under the age of two said that caregiving affected their ability to work during the pandemic. Of all adults who stopped working, 8% cited caregiving needs resulting from school or child care program closures—totaling over 5 million adults.

Black and Hispanic Caregivers Under Disproportionate Pressure

Black adults were three times as likely as white adults (22% to 7%) to cite caregiving for relatives as a reason they stopped working. Among caregivers, Black and Hispanic workers were much more likely to cite this responsibility as significantly impacting their ability to work than white workers (39% and 35% compared to 24%).

Most Workers Still Lack Access to Paid Family Leave

This poll found that only 28% of currently employed workers had the option to take paid family leave over the past year, despite emergency government measures and benefits offered voluntarily by employers. Moreover, currently employed men were twice as likely as women (36% to 18%) to have the option—28 million men to 13 million women.

The Good News: Paid Family Leave Can and Does Help

While this poll finds a troubling and chronic dilemma for people – especially parents – struggling to balance work and caregiving, it also offers a glimmer of hope. Among adults with access to paid family leave, 71% said the benefit helped them continue to work. 86% of parents with children under the age of 12 said it helped them keep working. Among Hispanic and Black adults with a PFL option, 78% and 73%, respectively, said it helped. Among all adults who had PFL benefits, more than half (51%) used the benefit during the pandemic.

Among those who did not have PFL benefits, over one-third (34%) said it would have helped them to continue to work. 38% of all unemployed workers said PFL would help them return to work sooner. That percentage jumps to 47% for unemployed parents, to 50% of unemployed Black workers, and to 59% of unemployed workers currently seeking work. Among workers who reduced their work hours during the pandemic, the majority (53%) said that access to PFL would help them work more.

A Word of Caution

This poll shows the dramatic toll caregiving responsibilities have taken on American workers – particularly parents with young children, Blacks, and Hispanics – during the pandemic, and demonstrates that paid family leave can help alleviate the pressures that are inevitable when trying to balance work with caregiving. It is critical to remember, however, that these pressures did not begin with the pandemic, nor will they end with it.

Rather, the pandemic has exposed a glaring weakness in our current economy that shows little sign of diminishing. Accommodating this economic and workforce reality is needed for our working families and for our businesses alike. The feedback from this poll provides strong evidence that the U.S. workforce can be made larger and more durable with greater access to PFL. What is needed is a national paid family leave program that is built on the solid foundation of bipartisanship and the input of all stakeholders, so that it is built to last.

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