What to get Mom for Mother’s Day?
How about more time with her family? Isn’t that was she really wants? And how about family time without the demands and pressures of a job to interfere? Wouldn’t it be great if Mom could, say, spend six weeks of paid time off bonding with a new baby?
Here, in New Jersey, she already can.
The state, over the past four years, has created a tremendously successful family leave insurance program that provides paid time off for workers who are dealing with the most major of life’s events — the birth of a child, a sick relative, adoption.
New Jersey is only the second state to provide paid family leave, after California.
The program has been nothing short of a smashing success, providing more than 80,000 workers — four out of five of them women — with partial wage replacement for family leaves that average 5.2 weeks, according to Department of Labor and Workforce development statistics.
The act was the product of years of effort by advocates such as the New Jersey Time to Care coalition, which worked with lawmakers, national partners and union leaders to come up with a family leave insurance program that doesn’t cost employers a dime.
Family leave insurance is funded entirely by worker contributions, which amount to a maximum of about 50 cents a week. The funds allow for wage replacement of up to $572 a week for a maximum of six weeks and are separate from the unpaid federal family leave program.
Leave may be taken to care for a sick family member or to bond with a newly born or adopted child.
Babies aren’t the only ones who’ve benefited either.
A study by the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers shows that women with some form of paid family leave are twice as likely to take paid leave following the birth of a child than women in other states.
The effect is even larger for low-income women, who are least likely to have access to paid leave through an employer.
It also shows that women who took paid leave are less likely to turn to public assistance, more likely to return to work within a year and reported increased wages in the months following a leave.
Employers have embraced the idea, too.
At a celebration of the fourth anniversary of the signing of the family leave insurance program last week, Caliper Corporation CEO Herb Greenberg said the law was an important benefit for his workers, but that it also benefited his business, noting that 20 of his 22 employees who have taken family leave have returned to work for him.
“I’ll tell you a secret: If people would only open themselves and realize it, it’s just as important for business as it is for labor,” Greenberg said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Of course, like any new policy, there are a few tweaks that could be made, such as greater outreach and education, to be sure that all of New Jersey’s working families know about the program and are able to access benefits.
But it’s clear that family leave insurance, just like other paid “time to care” programs, means strong families, strong workplaces and strong communities.
We’re helping policymakers figure out what moms and dads already know to be true: Family leave insurance and other forms of paid family leave are great for businesses, the economy and families.
So don’t worry too much about a gift for Mother’s Day. Get her a card and flowers, and then be sure to spend some quality time together. That’s what she really wants.
Karen White is director of the Work and Family Programs at the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University. Phyllis Salowe-Kaye is the executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action. More information can be found at njtimetocare.org.