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A new baby. A returning service member with a traumatic brain injury. A child with a cancer diagnosis. A parent’s descent into dementia. A car accident. For many Americans, paid leave can be a lifeline that provides time away from work to take care of these important priorities without jeopardizing their economic security. When working families have access to paid leave, they can better keep both work and life responsibilities in balance. Modest investments in paid leave mean new parents or caring spouses can stay in the workforce and still meet their own and their families’ needs.

But most working families do not have meaningful access to paid leave. Only about 12 percent of private sector workers get paid parental and family leave from their employers and only about four in ten have access to paid medical leave at work in the form of short-term disability benefit. While three states have paid family leave public insurance programs (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island), and leading employers are providing paid leave benefit to boost recruitment and retention, that progress only goes so far. We are one of only a few nations on earth without national paid maternity leave. The unpaid job-protected leave available through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a critical benefit that helps many families, but almost half the workforce is not even covered by that law. This patchwork of partial solutions leaves far too many people without any real options.

This is a problem that cuts against some of the most fundamental American values that we hold dear – values like the importance of an honest day’s work, ensuring the best start in life so our children thrive, caring for those who are ill, and honoring our mothers and fathers. It is not who we are as a nation to stand by and fail to act when people need to take care of themselves and their loved ones because of an important life event. This report documents many costs of doing nothing on paid leave, but there are some you simply cannot put a price tag on.


Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Labor. (2015). The cost of doing nothing: The price we all pay without paid leave policies to support America’s 21st century working families. Washington, D.C.: Author.