Panel Paper: Paid Family Leave: Supporting Work Stability Among Lower Income Mothers

Friday, November 9, 2018
8223 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Pamela Winston, Lauren Antelo and Rashaun Bennett, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Around the time of childbirth, low-income families are at particular risk of falling into poverty for reasons including mothers’ separation from work. Passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (also known as Welfare Reform), with its time limits and work requirements, set the expectation that poor and low-income parents with young children work in the labor market. Paid Family Leave (PFL)—in the states that have it—provides a short period of partially subsidized wages to new parents so they can afford to take time off to care for and bond with their child. Research indicates that PFL is associated with higher rates of post-birth work attachment among mothers and higher rates of return to their prior employers, including among lower wage mothers. The President’s FY 2019 budget includes a proposal for PFL for new parents.

The DHHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), Office of Human Services Policy, is conducting a qualitative study to better understand factors that facilitate—and inhibit—lower income mothers’ returns to work following childbirth and the role of PFL. It is analyzing the relationship between returns to work after childbirth, the use of PFL, and the role of informal and formal child care, among other factors. Focus groups and interviews with lower income mothers of young children are addressing topics including:

Mothers’ use of PFL

  • Attachment to work and their pre-birth employers
  • Specific reasons for—and facilitators of—returning to work
  • Challenges to returning to work
  • Actions taken related to work and child care arrangements after childbirth, and
  • Other experiences with PFL as a work support.

A total of about 65 mothers of young children, below the area household median income, are participating in focus groups or being interviewed in the three states with the longest-established PFL programs: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. These states take varying approaches to PFL, such as differing income and work eligibility requirements, wage-replacement levels, and lengths of leave. The qualitative data collection is being conducted by contractors (Mission Analytics Group and CAI), and ASPE Human Services Policy staff is analyzing the data and producing reports. The study is also informed by a review of the literature on paid family leave and work attachment. It builds on a prior ASPE study exploring experiences with PFL as a family support among lower wage working mothers in California.

The team is conducting data collection in the spring of 2018, and the data is being analyzed into the summer. A study report is expected late summer. Early findings identify a range of barriers to continued employment that lower income mothers face, both before and after childbirth, and suggest several potential policy levers to lessen these barriers.