The legislature convened its regular session less than four weeks ago, and over the next several months will deal with a number of issues plaguing our state. The budget fiasco is still fresh in the minds of both assembly members and voters, and many are worried about how the fiscal health of the state will impact companies’ and families’ decisions to leave Connecticut. The popular narrative is that people are leaving the state in droves for lower taxes and more job opportunities, and most voters in Connecticut are eager to turn this trend around.
Many members of the General Assembly have promised to address the state’s declining population through public policies that both keep people here and attract newcomers, but we have yet to see much in the way of concrete solutions that aren’t going to cost the state money we don’t have. But one solution that has the potential to improve the state’s economy, draw in and keep talent, all at little to no cost to the state government, is paid family and medical leave.
Paid family and medical leave legislation made it through committee last year but ultimately died before it advanced to a floor vote. The plan allows for 12 weeks of paid leave (100 percent of weekly earnings, up to a $1,000 cap) to employees who are new parents or those who need to care for a sick relative or recover from a personal illness. Importantly, the system would be funded through employee contributions (less than a half percent of weekly earnings), thereby eliminating the financial burden on small business owners.
Last year, my research firm conducted a poll of Connecticut small business owners and found that 77 percent supported the legislation. That support increases once small business owners learn about the research that shows paid family leave benefits businesses by increasing employee retention and job satisfaction as well as making businesses more competitive and attracting new talent. Small business owners in Connecticut understand that not only is paid family leave the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for the Connecticut economy.
Small business owners aren’t alone in their assessment that benefits like paid family leave boost the economic health of states; several independent research studies back this up. A survey conducted among American Millennials found that paid family leave is among the highest valued perks in a job offer — 83 percent said they would be more likely to accept a job from a company that offers paid family leave. People lament that families are moving out of Connecticut and fewer young people are coming in, but benefits like paid family leave can turn that pattern around.
Other studies have confirmed that paid family leave reduces employee turnover and provides income security to families that otherwise would have to turn to public assistance— one study found poor women who took paid family leave after the birth of their child were 40 percent less likely to be on public assistance in the year following the birth, compared to mothers who returned to work without any paid leave. Connecticut residents wring their hands with worry that we won’t’ be able to fund assistance programs in the state, but we might be less likely to need to at all with policies that help employees successfully combine work and family.
Paid family leave is not a “women’s issue,” it’s an issue that affects and benefits all residents of Connecticut because of the policy’s economic implications. It’s a commonsense policy that has the potential to make Connecticut a more attractive place to live for young families and it also boosts the economy in ways that help everyone. When businesses are able to retain satisfied workers and the poor are less likely to turn to public assistance, we all reap those economic benefits.
The people of Connecticut should demand that the legislature seriously consider paid family leave legislation and bring Connecticut into the 21st century by creating commonsense policies that work for our families and our economy.
By Brittany L. Stalsburg, Ph.D., is Founder and President of BLS Research & Consulting LLC.