Berger Institute Releases Study On State’s Paid Family Leave Act

A year-long study examining the effects of the California Paid Family Leave Insurance Program, conducted by the Berger Institute for Work, Family, and Children at Claremont McKenna College, and funded by The California Wellness Foundation, indicates that among other findings only 1 percent of the 367 Southern California caregivers who participated in the study were using, or intended to use, Paid Family Leave benefits.

The research findings strike a noteworthy chord with President Bush’s recent proclamation observing November 2005 as National Family Caregivers Month, encouraging support for those serving as caregivers to family, friends, and neighbors.

Although more than 95 percent of Berger study respondents considered Paid Family Leave a positive program, the overwhelming majority particularly low-income families already suffering financial hardships felt they could not afford to stay home to care for a sick family member while receiving assistance from the California state insurance program.

The CPFL benefit, effective July 2004, provides California workers who pay into State Disability up to 55 percent of their wages while taking up to six weeks of leave to care for a family member, as well as the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a new child. Until July 2004, financial assistance for new parents or individuals caring for an elderly parent or relative was nonexistent in the United States.

The National Alliance on Care giving estimates that 1 in 10 Americans will need to take time off work to care for an elderly family member, so care giving will touch the lives of many Americans.

About 83 percent of respondents to the Berger study, which included phone and mail responses from residents of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, were caring for either a spouse or a parent. Forty percent reported working at least part-time either for someone else, or as self-employed. The average age of participants was 60, with women accounting for more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the caregivers. Survey results were divided into three areas: financial hardships, emotional and physical disabilities among caregivers, and use of Paid Family Leave.

Among the findings:

Less than half (44 percent) of respondents were familiar with the Paid Leave program, even though payroll deductions funding it had been in effect since Jan. 1, 2004.

52 percent of working caregivers felt that receiving 55 percent of their salary from the state was not financially viable.

24 percent of working caregivers feared losing their job if they took paid time off.

Self-employed caregivers are concerned about loss of pay and loss of revenue, as well as the piling up of work, for time away from work.

Caregivers feeling burned out and/or physically drained viewed work outside the home as respite for care giving, or for personal fulfillment.

Data collected for the state Employment Development Department’s year-in-review report meanwhile showed that CPFL paid nearly 138,000 workers about $300 million in its initial year. More than 88 percent of claims were for bonding with a new child, while about 12 percent of claims represented workers who took leave to care for an ill family member.

Berger Institute staff hope to use the latter state findings in particular, striking evidence that new mothers represent the majority of CPFL claims as the springboard for a larger study-sampling investigating the impact of maternity leave within the workplace.

For more information about the Berger research on CPFLA, visit: http://berger.claremontmckenna.edu/tenfacts.asp; or review the state’s CPFLA findings: http://www.edd.ca.gov/direp/pflanniv.asp.