Jane Waldfogel Delivers Expert Testimony to Congress
Addressing the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support, Dr. Waldfogel called on Congress to update paid family and medical leave policies and to increase childcare subsidies to better support family wellbeing and children’s health and development.
On Thursday, March 7, Dr. Jane Waldfogel delivered testimony to Congress urging updates to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and increases to federal childcare subsidies. During the hearing, titled “Leveling the Playing Field for Working Families: Challenges and Opportunities,” Waldfogel stressed that public policy has not reflected the changing dynamics of American families.
“Unlike in the past, it is no longer commonplace for there to be a stay-at-home caregiver who can take care of a newborn baby, an ill child, a disabled spouse, an elderly relative, or a family member being deployed or returning from the military,” said Waldfogel, addressing the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support.
Signed into law in 1993, FMLA provides limited unpaid leave for births, adoptions, and serious health conditions experienced by employees or their family members. Waldfogel highlighted that only 60 percent of American workers are eligible for FMLA. And while 40 percent of workers have access to some paid family or medical leave through their employers, paid leave remains out of reach for many, especially low-income workers.
“The record is clear that [employers] will supply little coverage, particularly for the workers with the greatest need for it,” said Waldfogel, a renowned expert on the impacts of public policy on children and family wellbeing. “That’s why the American public and employers are looking to government to help.”
The numbers on childcare subsidies are equally distressing. Only 15 percent of eligible low-income families receive federal childcare subsidies and only 10 percent of workers receive subsidies through their employer.
Waldfogel referenced California as an exemplar, which became the first state in the country to implement a paid family leave law in 2004. She cited an array of evidence showing that the law has resulted in improvements across a range of measures, from decreased infant mortality to fewer nursing home admissions. Mothers with access to paid leave tend to suffer less from postpartum depression and generally breastfeed longer, thereby improving infant health and development, while fathers who take leave become more engaged in child rearing. Additionally, those with access to leave are more likely to remain employed and experience higher earnings.
Five additional states—Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts—and the District of Columbia have since passed paid family and medical leave laws.
Waldfogel noted that numerous studies have also shown that high-quality childcare leads to improved health and development outcomes for children, increased school readiness, and higher rates of parental employment and economic stability.