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new book on work and family: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy

When I visiting another university to give a talk a few years back, I met two faculty members for lunch.  One was wincing visibly in pain.  When I asked what was wrong, my colleague explained that he was suffering a migraine but that he would still teach class.  When I suggested cancelling class that day to recuperate, he felt he couldn’t.  He explained that he needed to save his vacation days for helping his ailing father, who was aging in place in another state.  Moments like these made me realize that for workers of all ages, attending to family matters is not easy or well-supported in the US.

Such policy issues are addressed in a new book by sociologist Ruth Milkman and economist Eileen Appelbaum: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy (2013, ILR/Cornell University Press).

Here is a description of Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy provided by the authors:

This book documents the history of California’s decade-old paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which offers wage replacement for up to six weeks for all private-sector workers when they need time off from their jobs to bond with a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member. Based on original fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, it analyzes the impact of paid family leave on employers and workers in the state, and explores the implications for crafting future work-family policy for the nation.

The book makes three key arguments. The first concerns the politics of paid leave. In contrast to most government-sponsored social programs, which are under attack and often have little popular support, paid family leave (and indeed work-family policy more generally) is a crossover issue politically. Conservatives see it as an expression of “family values,” whereas for progressives it is a much-needed element of the safety net for working families. As a result it has strong support across the political spectrum. Business routinely opposes any and all legislative initiatives in this area, which is a major obstacle to passing laws like the one that created the California program. But because the population generally is so highly supportive of paid leave, that opposition can be overcome by means of coalition organizing, as the passage of California’s landmark 2002 law – documented here in detail – illustrates.

The second argument is that contrary to the claims of the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists, paid family leave and other programs like it do not impose any major burdens on employers. This book presents survey data that show that in California, employers themselves concluded that the impact of the new state program on their productivity, profitability and performance was minimal and often positive. In addition, paid leave often reduced turnover and improved workers morale, at little or no cost to employers. The tax supporting the program is paid for entirely by workers, and many employers enjoyed cost savings as a result of the program’s creation, because they could coordinate their own wage replacement benefits with now offered by the state.

The third argument is more disturbing. This book shows that although workers who use California’s paid leave program and their family members have benefitted greatly, and although the program is well-managed and easy to access, awareness of its existence remains low. Moreover, those who are in most need of the program’s benefits – low wage workers, young workers, immigrants and disadvantaged minorities – all of whom have little or no access to employer-provided wage replacement benefits when they need to take time off to care for a new baby or a seriously ill relative – are least likely to know about it. As a result, the program’s potential to act as a social leveler, making paid leave available not only to managers and professionals, who are much more likely than lower-level workers to have access to paid time off in any form, but to all private-sector workers, has not yet been achieved. Instead the longstanding pattern of inequality in access to paid leave has remained largely intact. And even workers who are aware of the new state program are often reluctant to take advantage of it because they fear repercussions on the job.

Here’s the front and back of the book cover:

Milkman-Pprbk, Proof#1 copy

Check out the book – the 2014 ESS annual meeting in Baltimore will feature this book (and others) as an author-meets-critics session.

Written by katherinechen

October 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm

One Response

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  1. An important book on a key policy issue by two leading sociologists of work and labor. Can’t wait. Thanks.

    Like

    Hector

    October 15, 2013 at 11:55 am


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