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State Laws Build Momentum For First National Paid Family Leave Program


While California works out the kinks in its paid family leave program, other states are watching. New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York now have similar programs, and momentum has been building for a national paid family leave program. Aparna Mathur is watching all of this closely. She's an economist for the American Enterprise Institute, and she joins us now. Welcome.

APARNA MATHUR: Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: So you work with a conservative think tank. What got you interested in the issue of paid family leave?

MATHUR: I think, coming from a conservative think tank and a background, I think what we care about when we talk about paid family leave is the issue of workforce participation. In states like California that have implemented paid family leave, research suggests that women are much more likely to get back to work. They have higher wages. They're able to participate more actively in developing a career, you know, improving lifetime earnings. And that helps the economy as a whole.

MCEVERS: For a long time, businesses were opposed to paid family leave laws, but now that's changing. Why?

MATHUR: You know, there was a push in the private sector at one time, and especially when you look at the small-business community, that these kinds of laws would be very costly for businesses because, you know, at the end of the day, you're allowing an employee to take time off from work, which means that businesses have to then find somebody to replace them, possibly hiring a temp worker who might not be as productive.

But I think it's exactly for those kinds of reasons that businesses are now coming around to the idea that maybe this is a policy that actually works for them, that there is a benefit to retaining employees who have been with them for so long. And yes, it's - you know, it's a temporary cost, but in the long run, I think, it's going to pay off for these companies to have these family-friendly policies, as we like to call them, to get these employees back and to have them be productive. So they are coming around to this idea.

MCEVERS: We talk about the temporary costs for businesses. What are the other costs? I mean, we're talking about the benefits here. We know there are a lot of benefits for paid family leave. Are there other costs?

MATHUR: Well, you know, a lot would depend on how you fund these programs. So if you think about - the opposition to these programs is essentially, is this going to be a mandate on businesses? Are we going to tell them you have to provide this policy, and it doesn't matter how costly it is? You have to do it.

You know, many people in the business community and, you know, on - in conservative circles actually view this as, essentially, another tax on businesses. But I think a lot depends on how you actually fund these programs, and it could be that you do it through a payroll tax.

But if we do it, you know, with the understanding that, well, essentially, this is a tax that will come out of employee wages and it - maybe it's a benefit that they're willing to pay for, then I think the - you know, the conversation changes, and I think you realize that businesses are probably more likely to get behind these policies.

MCEVERS: That's Aparna Mathur, economist with the American Enterprise Institute. Thank you very much.

MATHUR: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.