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Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy

Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy

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Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy

202 pagine
2 ore
Nov 15, 2013


Unfinished Business documents the history and impact of California’s paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which began in 2004. Drawing on original data from fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum analyze in detail the effect of the state’s landmark paid family leave on employers and workers. They also explore the implications of California’s decade-long experience with paid family leave for the nation, which is engaged in ongoing debate about work-family policies.

Unfinished Business exposes the process by which California workers and their allies built a coalition to win passage of paid family leave in the state legislature, and lays out the lessons for advocates in other states and localities, as well as the nation. Because paid leave enjoys extensive popular support across the political spectrum, campaigns for such laws have an excellent chance of success if some basic preconditions are met.

Do paid family leave and similar programs impose significant costs and burdens on employers? Business interests argue that they do and routinely oppose any and all legislative initiatives in this area. Once the program took effect in California, this book shows, large majorities of employers themselves reported that its impact on productivity, profitability, and performance was negligible or positive.

Milkman and Appelbaum demonstrate that the California program is well managed and easy to access, but that awareness of its existence remains limited. Moreover, those who need the program’s benefits most urgently—low-wage workers, young workers, immigrants, and disadvantaged minorities—are least likely to know about it. As a result, the long-standing pattern of inequality in access to paid leave has remained largely intact.

Nov 15, 2013

Informazioni sull'autore

Ruth Milkman is Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center and Academic Director of CUNY’s Murphy Labor Institute. She is the author of several books, including the prizewinning Gender at Work and L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement. She also is coauthor of Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy, editor of Organizing Immigrants, and coeditor of Rebuilding Labor and Working for Justice, all from Cornell.

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Unfinished Business - Ruth Milkman


Paid Family Leave in California and the

Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy






In memory of our mothers,

Beatrice Milkman and Sarah Schneider



1. Introduction: The Case for Paid Family Leave

2. The Politics of Family Leave, Past and Present

3. Challenges of Legislative Implementation

4. Paid Family Leave and California Business

5. The Reproduction of Inequality

6. Conclusions and Future Challenges

Methodological Appendix




We have been at work on this project for more than a decade. It began immediately after the California legislature passed the bill creating the nation’s first paid family leave (PFL) program in the fall of 2002, when we spotted a window of opportunity—after the legislation was passed but before the program would begin operating, in mid-2004—to collect baseline data on how workers and employers were managing the kinds of family events the new PFL program would soon cover. Funding for that crucial initial stage of our research came primarily from the National Institute for Child Health and Development (NICHD). We are deeply grateful to Lynne Casper, then an NICHD program officer, who understood the uniqueness of that historical moment and guided us through the NICHD funding process, making the initial surveys of employers and workers possible on very short notice. At the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Kathleen Christensen supplemented the NICHD funding with a program officer’s grant that supported our first round of fieldwork. The UCLA Institute for Labor and Employment also helped to fund this early stage of our work. We are also grateful to the Schumann Fund for New Jersey, and its program officer Barbara Riesman, for funding our fieldwork in that state—shortly before it became the second state to create a paid leave program, providing a valuable comparative perspective on the California case.

In 2009, we received a second round of funding for the follow-up phase of our data collection, making it possible to conduct surveys examining the impact of the PFL program on employers and workers. We thank the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Rockefeller Family Fund for making this work possible. We are grateful to Anna Wadia and Helen Neuborne at Ford, Beadsie Woo at AECF, and Aixa Cintron and Eric Wanner at RSF for their generous and ongoing support for this effort. Supplementary funding also came from the California Employment Development Department, where Sandra Poole and Janet Botill provided vital support. Finally, we thank Lisa Guide at the Rockefeller Family Fund, which provided us with a dissemination grant, and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, which provided a planning grant for the second phase of the project.

We were fortunate to work with three different survey research centers whose skilled professional staff assisted us at many stages of the project. We thank Yuteh Cheng, Bob Lee, and Jeff Royal at the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center (which unfortunately no longer exists); Ken Gross at California Survey Research Services; and Mary Ellen Colten, Carol Cosenza, Anthony Roman, and Kirk Larsen at the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Many talented graduate students helped us carry out this highly labor-intensive project over the past decade. At UCLA we were fortunate to work with Andrea Dinneen, Patricia Donze, Ana Luz Gonzalez, Marisa Gerstein Pineau, Daisy Rooks, Claudia Solari, and Anita Yuan; Rhokeun Park at Rutgers University; and finally, at the CUNY Graduate Center, David Frank, Erin Michaels, and especially Laura Braslow provided invaluable assistance. In addition, Karen White and Kristen Pipes at the Rutgers University Center for Women and Work provided excellent support for our fieldwork. Yadira Santoyo and other staff at the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment provided ongoing administrative support for this work. And at the Center for Economic and Policy Research John Schmitt helped us on several occasions with insightful advice about and analysis of various U.S. government data sets, and research assistant Janelle Jones, program coordinator Kris Warner, and intern Alexandra Mitukiewicz also provided helpful assistance to our project. CEPR’s Milla Sanes was extraordinarily helpful in designing the final graphs for the book.

We also benefited greatly from the expert advice of other researchers in this field. Donna Benton, Heather Boushey, Janet Currie, Paul Chung, Janet Gornick, Diane Halpern, Frank Neuhauser, Ann O’Leary, Judith Seltzer, Mark Schuster, and Jane Waldfogel were generous and wise in advising us on the research design. Equally crucial was the expertise of Jennifer Richard, a legislative aide to then California state senator Sheila Kuehl, who carried the bill that created paid family leave. We also learned a great deal from Tom Rankin, then president of the California Labor Federation, who helped get the PFL program legislation passed, and Rona Sheriff, then of the State Senate Office of Research, who played a key role in its implementation. Thanks also to Sharon Terman of the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center in San Francisco for her work on the content and design of figure 3.1.

Ellen Bravo, a tireless advocate for working women generally and family leave in particular, first at 9 to 5 and now at the Family Values @Work Consortium, also advised us at many crucial points. Our greatest debt is to Netsy Firestein, who directs the Labor Project for Working Families, and her entire staff. Netsy not only played a leading role in the advocacy and organizing that led to the establishment of paid family leave in California but also advised and supported us at every stage of the research that led to this book. Our heartfelt thanks to her as well as to Janet Gornick and an anonymous reviewer for Cornell University Press, all three of whom carefully read a full draft of this book and provided us with invaluable feedback.

Portions of this book previously appeared in Paid Family Leave in California: New Research Findings, by Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum, in The State of California Labor 2004 (University of California Press, 2004), 45–70, and in Class Disparities, Market Fundamentalism and Work-Family Policy: Lessons from California, by Ruth Milkman, in Gender Equality: Transforming Family Divisions of Labor, ed. Janet C. Gornick and Marcia K. Meyers (Verso, 2009), 339–64, though much of the material has been revised.



The Case for Paid Family Leave

California made history on September 23, 2002, when Governor Gray Davis signed a bill into law creating the nation’s first comprehensive paid family leave (PFL) program. Although nearly every other country in the world guarantees paid leave to employed mothers (and in many cases, fathers as well) when they take time off to care for a new child, the United States is famously exceptional in its failure to do so.¹ Since 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has guaranteed unpaid job-protected leaves for new parents of up to twelve weeks. However, it makes such leaves available to only about half of the U.S. labor force, and even those who are covered often cannot afford to take unpaid leaves.² A handful of states (including California) have temporary disability programs that provide partial wage replacement to mothers during and immediately after pregnancy.³ In the rest of the country, however, paid family leave is available only to workers whose employers provide it as part of a package of fringe benefits. With the exception of union members who often obtain such benefits through collective bargaining, non-college-educated workers and others in jobs with low pay and status often lack access even to paid sick days and paid vacation, and are even less likely to have employer-provided disability insurance or paid family leave. The growing numbers of freelancers, independent contractors, and other precarious workers who have no ongoing ties to a single employer also typically lack these basic benefits. As a result, millions of American workers are regularly forced to choose between economic security and providing vital care for their families. Against this background, California’s 2002 PFL legislation was a major breakthrough, along with a similar measure that New Jersey passed into law in 2008.⁴

The Need for Family Leave

As family and work patterns have shifted in the United States, demand for time off from paid work to attend to family needs has increased dramatically. Several recent social trends have contributed to this growth. The most important among them are rising female labor force participation, especially among mothers; the aging of the population and the accompanying surge in demand for eldercare; and men’s increased involvement (although it remains relatively modest) in parenting and other types of unpaid caregiving.

In the past, most family care was provided on an unpaid basis by wives and mothers, who typically withdrew from the labor force entirely when their children were young or when other family members needed assistance. But over the past century, female labor force participation rates, especially among mothers of young children, have increased dramatically; by 2010, women were 47 percent of the civilian labor force. Between 1975 and 2010 alone, the participation rate for mothers with children under age three almost doubled, rising from 34 percent to 61 percent. In a sharp historical reversal, mothers are now more likely to be in the labor force than women generally: the overall female labor force participation rate in 2010 was 59 percent (U.S. Department of Labor 2011a, 4–5, 19). Employment during pregnancy has also become the norm: in the first decade of the twenty-first century, about two-thirds of first-time mothers in the United States were employed while pregnant, up from 44 percent in the early 1960s (Laughlin 2011, 4). Although many women still leave the labor force for brief periods when they have children, they are far more likely than in the past to be continuously employed over the course of the life cycle. Most mothers in the twenty-first century, then, must find ways to balance the needs of their children with the demands of their jobs.

At the same time, many women today—as well as a growing number of men—are devoting considerable amounts of time to caring for elderly family members. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey (ATUS) found that 19 percent of employed women and 15 percent of employed men were unpaid eldercare providers. Many of them were simultaneously engaged in parenting, making up what is popularly known as the sandwich generation. Indeed, the ATUS found that 23 percent of adults who were providing eldercare in 2011 also had children under age eighteen in their households (U.S. Department of Labor 2012a). As the U.S. population has aged, demand for eldercare has steadily increased, and reduced family size means that the workload involved is distributed across a smaller number of children and other kin than in the past. In most families today, all adults are in the labor force, so that eldercare demands add to the challenges of balancing work and family.

Men’s participation in these activities has increased somewhat in recent decades, although women continue to shoulder the bulk of unpaid childcare and eldercare alongside their paid work, a pattern Gornick and Meyers (2003) call partial gender specialization. Historical data are fragmentary, but the ATUS found that in the 2007–11 period mothers spent 2.5 times as much time as fathers did providing physical childcare (such as feeding or bathing children) in households where the youngest child was under age six; for all childcare activities combined, the gender gap was nearly as stark: mothers spent 1.9 times as much time on childcare as fathers did (in all households with children under eighteen). Gender inequality in eldercare is less extreme but still substantial: women spent 1.5 times as much time as men did providing eldercare in 2011, according to the ATUS (U.S. Department of Labor 2012a).

In regard to childcare, however, there is evidence of a generational shift: not only are younger men engaged in parenting to a greater extent than their fathers and grandfathers were, but many of them express a preference to become even more involved. Young men in long-term heterosexual relationships also face growing demands from their wives or partners to participate more fully in family life (Gerson 2010). Yet even when they do contribute substantially in terms of time, fathers remain far less likely than mothers to leave the labor force or change their hours of employment to accommodate childcare demands (Raley, Bianchi, and Wang 2012). In part, this reflects the constraints imposed by employers’ inflexible scheduling demands and traditional gender norms, as well as the continuing resilience of those norms in the wider society. Nevertheless, the stresses of balancing work and family have increased substantially for men. A 2008 national survey found that 60 percent of employed fathers in dual-earner families reported experiencing some or a lot of work-life conflict, almost double the 1977 level of 35 percent (Galinsky, Aumann, and Bond 2011, 18).

Taken together, these trends—increased maternal labor force participation, the aging of the population and the accompanying expansion in the need for eldercare, and increasing male involvement in caregiving—have led to rapid growth in demand for family leave in the United States in recent decades. Time off from their jobs can alleviate the pressures on workers during periods of peak family caregiving demand, like the arrival of a new child, or when serious illness strikes a family member. In addition, as a large

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