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How to Build a Paid Family Leave Plan That Doesn’t Backfire

“There’s no research-based reason one should go down from 12 weeks,” said Maya Rossin-Slater, an economist at Stanford and an expert on parental leave policies. “There’s nothing you gain, and in fact you lose some of the benefits, like breastfeeding, maternal mental health and child immunizations.”

The Biden plan, as of now, would not provide job protection. Democrats are trying to pass the legislation under a process called budget reconciliation, which requires that new policies directly affect revenue and spending. A job protection mandate wouldn’t qualify.

Some workers would still have job protection, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but that excludes nearly half of workers, including those at businesses with fewer than 50 employees and those who have been employed less than a year.

When paid leave doesn’t include job protection, a significant share of workers are unlikely to take it even if they’re eligible, research shows — particularly Hispanic workers, low earners, those who work at small businesses and those who work part time or frequently switch jobs.

“My view is if leaves aren’t job-protected, it’s barely leave,” said Christopher Ruhm, professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia. “You’re going to have lots of people being very hesitant to use it, so it loses a lot of the benefit.”

The plan would pay two-thirds of most workers’ average weekly wages, up to $4,000 a month, and 85 percent of low earners’ wages, about $1,000 a month.

Larger wage replacement for low-income workers has been shown to increase the chance that they will take it, researchers said, though the lowest earners may need close to full wage replacement to afford leave. California, which became the first state to pass paid leave in 2002, increased the share of replacement pay in 2016, to 70 percent for low earners from 55 percent. Usage rates increased for those earning $20,000 or more, though not for those earning less.