It just got a little easier to be a working parent in New York.
After a marathon session, the New York Senate passed, by a vote of 61-1, a budget that included a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour—and a robust paid leave program.
The vote makes New York the fifth state to enact paid family leave. And, as Rebecca Traister noted in her comprehensive breakdown of the policy over at The Cut, New York’s policy looks like the most comprehensive the country has seen yet.
The specifics are as follows: the new program guarantees all workers—full-time and part-time, parents of all genders—12 weeks of paid leave. Employees will be entitled to the time to take care of a new child or sick family member. There are no exceptions for small businesses, and workers will be eligible to take leave after six months on a job.
Well, starting in 2018.
The program, like so many other recent progressive wage laws, will be gradually phased in. In two years, workers will be entitled to eight weeks. Then, by 2019 and 2020, it will go up to 10 weeks. By 2021, it will cap off at 12 weeks. The percentage of wages workers will collect will be phased in, too. Workers’ will start collecting 50% of their earnings, and, after four years, it will reach 67%.
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And while New York's program is more ambitious than what's offered in states like California and New Jersey, there's data that suggests paid leave policies don't hurt jobs.
According to a study from the Center for Economic Policy Research, 86.9% of employers in California—a state that offers six weeks of paid time off— said paid leave had not caused “any cost increases” whatsoever. Around 9% of employers said that the policy had helped them save money “by reducing employee turnover and/or by reducing their own benefit costs when employees used the program instead of (or in combination with) employer-provided paid vacation, sick leave, or disability benefits.”
Waiting for the program to kick in will be a challenge for New York families who need those wage supports, you know, like yesterday, but it still puts the state ahead of much of the rest of the country.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 15% of workers in the United States have access to any kind of paid family leave. And higher-income workers are more likely to have it than people earning low wages: one in five of the top 10% of earners get paid leave, whereas just one in 20 workers in the bottom quartile can take time off and still collect a paycheck.
The effect is a kind of cyclical poverty: working a low-wage or minimum wage job already leaves people to subsist on poverty wages. Add a kid into the mix, and that poverty only compounds. Which is why progressive lawmakers and labor organizations have been pushing for paid leave as a companion to raising the minimum wage.
“There are too many parents who are relying on the low-wage jobs that have been created since the recession,” Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, told me last year. That's why her work, and a report issued last year by her foundation, has focused in on raising the minimum wage and paid leave. “Those jobs just aren’t cutting it. Parents aren’t able to make ends meet." [which is why] our recommendations in this report are mainly focused on the issues of economic wellbeing and policies that result in higher pay. That can mean minimum wage laws, living wage laws, paid sick leave, flexible scheduling.”
Look at some of the expenses new parents face, and it’s easy to understand why families are struggling.
Childcare, for one thing, costs more than college tuition in 33 states. New York—surprise—is one of them. Which gets at another strength of New York's new program: both parents are eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave, and they could stagger it. That means that, in two-parent households, at least one parent could be home with a new child for nearly six months. The average cost of infant care in New York City is a staggering $16,250 a year.
Allowing parents to stay home, while still collecting part of their paychecks, not only allows them to continue to collect wages—it could save them thousands of dollars in childcare costs.
And in a place as expensive as New York, every little bit counts.