By Kate Taft, MPH
Senior Program Manager, Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs; AMCHP
By Carolyn McCoy, MPH
Senior Policy Manager; AMCHP
The ability for someone to take time away from work either for their own or a family member's health needs should not put her/him at economic risk. This time off is especially important for parents at the time of birth or placement of a child into the family. For mothers after birth, it is a time of healing and bonding and is critical to improving breastfeeding rates. Parents and caretakers of children or spouses need the ability to care for loved ones without potential financial hardship or loss of job security.
According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress, in the United States, nearly 40 million workers (39 percent of the paid workforce) lack access to a single paid sick day. Those least likely to have access to these paid sick days are those who are in low-wage positions. The research goes on to highlight that hourly workers are significantly less likely to have access to paid sick days, flexible hours and flexible working locations than similar workers who are not hourly. Further, African-American and Latino workers are less likely than white workers to have access to paid sick days. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that workers with lower educational attainment were also less likely to receive pay during leave as part of employer-provided benefits. They also have lower family incomes and thus have fewer financial resources to draw upon during an unpaid leave event. This unequal access to paid time off exacerbates health disparities in our society. More than 2.5 million employees who are eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act do not take the leave because they cannot afford the loss of pay. The United States is the only rich nation that does not guarantee workers any paid vacations, paid holidays, paid sick leave or paid maternity leave by federal law.
The National Partnership for Women and Families highlights that new mothers who receive job-protected paid leave are more likely to take at least the minimum six to eight weeks of leave recommended by physicians, their babies are more likely to be breastfed and their children are more likely to be taken to the pediatrician for regular visits and immunizations. In addition to promoting better health and childhood development outcomes, paid leave can have economic and business benefits. An analysis of states with paid family and medical leave programs found that women in those states are less likely than women in other states to receive public assistance or food stamps following a child's birth, particularly when they use the paid leave programs. Additionally, paid leave programs can be an affordable strategy for businesses to support and retain workers when serious family and medical needs arise. In California, nearly 90 percent of employers reported positive effects or no effects in terms of productivity, profitably, retention and morale after the state's paid family leave statue was enacted. Small employers reported fewer problems than large firms (if any).
There are opportunities to examine policies at the state and federal levels for improvement, and for maternal and child health professionals to promote pro-family policies and investments that lead to improved outcomes. As the maternal and child health "hubs" in each state and jurisdiction, Title V programs are well positioned to engage with stakeholders, including employees and businesses, to work toward a healthy start for children. State Title V MCH programs can provide education on how business and economic policies and programs can impact families and child health outcomes. State MCH programs can also provide data on the needs that affect families and children in their states and communities, as well as the opportunities to implement policies and programs that improve early childhood and family well-being.