Paid Leave Still Inaccessible to Majority of Ohioans

Family support programs could be economic boon in state, country, study shows

click to enlarge “The lack of paid leave exacerbates the state’s economic and care challenges" - Marco Verch/FlickrCC
“The lack of paid leave exacerbates the state’s economic and care challenges"

Paid leave continues to be a problem in Ohio and the country, with a vast majority of working people still living without it, according to a recent study.

The National Partnership for Women & Families said 73% of people working in the U.S. don’t have paid leave through their employers, and federal unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act is almost as inaccessible.

Ohio’s workers see slightly lower rates of access with 76%, or more than 4.4 million Ohioans, working jobs without the possibility of paid family leave. Even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 60% of Ohioans, the study said.

“The lack of paid leave exacerbates the state’s economic and care challenges – from the cost of living, to a scarcity of reproductive and maternal health care, to an aging population, with devastating costs for Ohioans and their families, public health and the economy,” the report stated.

The impacts of paid leave policy on working women are particularly significant for minority households in Ohio. The research found that 84% of Ohio’s Black mothers, 57% of Latina matriarchs and 34% of AAPI moms are “key family breadwinners.” For white mothers, 51% of them are heads of their households in Ohio.

Without paid leave, workers, typically women more than men, are forced to leave the workforce in favor of taking care of children or dealing with family issues like parental caregiving. The Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network found that only 15% of workers, including only 4% of low-wage workers, have access to “any form of paid leave” through their employers.

“Black and Latina women are even less likely to have access to paid leave, which exacerbates the wealth gaps and racial disparities among families of color and white families,” according to the network.

With those women out of the workforce, the country as a whole suffers economically, which advocates for paid leave have been proclaiming for years, before and after the COVID-19 pandemic had its effects.

“Nationally, if women participated in the U.S. labor force at the same rate as in countries with national paid leave and other family policies, our economy would benefit from more than $775 billion in additional economic activity each year,” the NPWF stated in its study, citing federal data.

A Nov. 2023 report from the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor found that the costs caused by not having a paid leave and the effects of that “policy deficit” on women’s earning “were broad ranging,” even in 2015, when the department studied the lack of working family support.

Since then, the Department of Labor found that the labor force participation rate for “prime working age women” has “reached new highs.” While access to leave from state to state has improved, as working people in 15 states and the District of Columbia with the right to paid sick days and 13 states and D.C. with paid family and medical leave programs, the most recent data from the federal department still shows the U.S. “remains far behind peer countries when it comes to policies to support working families.”

“The U.S. continues to lag peer nations when it comes to policies that support working families, public spending on care, and as a result, women’s labor force participation,” researchers stated in the report.

This amounts to a $3.9 billion shortfall in earned wages in Ohio versus if the state’s woman workers were able to participate in the labor force “at the same rate as women in countries with paid leave,” according to the NPWF.

“In Ohio, a typical worker who takes four weeks of unpaid leave loses more than $3,400 in income,” researchers stated.

More than financial support, the group said paid leave can help staying power for employees, boost morale and in turn, productivity.

“But small employers often cannot provide the benefit – and universal paid leave would help them do that,” the group stated in their Ohio profile.

Local and national groups are hoping the economic statistics and continued push for paid leave will lead to federal changes that increase support to families.

Legislation in Ohio has been introduced over the years, but hasn’t seen enough bipartisan support in the GOP supermajority general assemblies to pass into law.

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.