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Reports Find Women and Low-Wage Workers Face Greater Hardship When Taking Family and Medical Leave

Rockville, Md.  –  Family and medical leave, always a critical need for working families, has taken on increasing importance under the COVID-19 pandemic as workers experience increased illnesses and a need to care for family members. A new study funded by the US Department of Labor and conducted by Abt Global finds women and low-wage workers disproportionately face significant economic hardship when they take leave from work for family and medical reasons. The study was conducted prior to the pandemic, and these inequities have likely worsened as it has disproportionately affected women and low-wage workers.  

The study examined employees’ use of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to qualifying employees for specified family and medical leave reasons and up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a service member. While there is no requirement that employers provide any pay during the leave, some employees can receive pay while on leave through vacation and sick leave or state-paid family leave.

Women usually take on the majority of health responsibilities for their family members, including caring for a new child. But the report found: 

  • While more women need leave and take leave more than men, they have a larger unmet need for leave.
  • While on leave, fewer women than men receive full pay (32 percent versus 55 percent), and more receive no pay (41 percent versus 25 percent).
  • More women than men borrow money, put off paying bills, and go on public assistance to cover lost wages.

Leave is also critical to low-wage workers who are less likely to be able to afford to take time off to care for family members. Yet:    

  • Low-wage workers are less likely to have access to paid leave for their own serious health condition than non-low-wage workers (52 percent versus 80 percent).
  • Only about one-third of low-wage workers are eligible for FMLA job protection compared with about two-thirds of higher earning workers.
  • When low-wage workers take leave, they are more likely to lose their job (18 percent versus 5 percent) and more likely to need to borrow money or go on public assistance to cover lost wages.

“We hope that the study findings inform the increasingly important policy discussions about economic hardship faced by employees when they take leave from work for family and medical reasons,” said Radha Roy, the project’s director.

Read the full reports:


About Abt Global
Abt Global is a global consulting and research firm that uses data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people’s lives. From combatting infectious disease and conducting rigorous program evaluations, to ensuring safe drinking water and promoting access to affordable housing—and more—we partner with clients and communities to tackle their most complex challenges.

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