Last year I wrote an article that looked at whether new parents are taking on debt to get by when they have to take leave at less than their normal pay—or none at all. After all, the Family and Medical Leave Act only mandates unpaid leave for the birth of a child or to care for a sick family member. There’s no law in this country saying you have to be paid anything while you’re taking the time off. The most recent data was from 2000, showing that a quarter of families had to borrow money to make ends meet. But it was unclear what had happened since then.
We now know things have gotten worse. The Department of Labor just released new data on the FMLA ahead of its twentieth anniversary tomorrow. The DOL reports that among those who received only partial or no pay during their leave, 30 percent borrowed money to get by. More than 35 percent dipped into savings that had been meant for something else, and the same percentage put off paying bills. Nearly all those figures have steadily risen since 2000. There were particularly disturbing jumps in other numbers, though. Nearly 85 percent had to limit their spending, while just 70 percent had to do so in 2000. Worse, almost 15 percent had to go on public assistance, up from a bit over 8 percent a decade ago. That’s an incredibly disturbing rise.
This means that a growing number of families are experiencing severe financial hardships just to take time off for the birth of a child or to care for their families. More and more are falling through the cracks of our inadequate policies. As one woman told me last year, “I’m a victim of FMLA because it didn’t help my family.”
Read Bryce Covert’s take on the economic implications of abortion access.