Policy in Action: New Jersey's Family Leave Insurance Program at Age Three

See: Policy in Action: New Jersey's Family Leave Insurance Program at Age Three

FromCenter for Women and Work at Rutgers University

Authors: Karen White, Linda Houser, and Elizabeth Nisbet

Date Published: January 2013

 

New Jersey took a strong step forward in May 2008, when Family Leave Insurance (FLI) was signed into law. The legislation provides eligible workers up to six weeks of partial wage replacement when they need to take time to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. Since July 2009, when the program began providing benefits, over 100,000 claims have been approved, providing New Jersey’s workingfamilies with critical financial security to see them through many of their most significant life-changing events. The majority of these claims (80,402, or 80.1%) havebeen for bonding with a newborn or newly adopted child. The remaining claims (19,937, or 19.9%) have been to care for a seriously ill family member.
 
While there have been a number of studies conducted on the impact of paid and unpaid family and medical leave, including studies specifically on California’s paid family leave program, less attention has been paid to New Jersey’s FLI program. Using data made available by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development(LWD), along with results from a public opinion poll conducted by the Eagleton Institute in August 2012, we look at New Jersey’s FLI program implementation, uptake,and usage; public awareness of and favorability toward the program; and data collection efforts to assess the impact of FLI on workers and their families. Based on our findings, we conclude with recommendations for policy changes that will help the FLI program better address the needs of New Jersey’s working families.
 
Key among our findings is the need for more detailed data collection and reporting. Only a small portion of information FLI applicants provide in making a claim is required to be reported by LWD. Important questions about FLI and its impact could be answered with access to additional data, including micro-data with demographic information about claimants, details on the “other family” category of caregiving claims, information about ineligible claims, wage data, business size, and industry of employers. 
 
Other findings include the following: 
-FLI has a high favorability rating in state-representative public opinion polling. More than three of every four respondents (76.4%) to an August 2012 poll indicated a favorable opinion toward FLI. Both men and womenoverwhelmingly favor the program, although the level of favorability among women is higher than that among men (84.3% compared with 67.7%). 
-Awareness of the FLI program is low. According to results of a staterepresentative public opinion poll, six in ten residents “had not seen or heard” anything about the program. Of those who indicated awareness, many did not know that the program was for both bonding with a new child and caring for a sick family member.
-Those most likely to have reported needing family leave were also among those least likely to have been aware of the program: adults with less than a high school degree (36.8%), black adults (36.3%), and adults earning less than $25,000 a year. 
-In 2011, bonding claims from women comprised the vast majority of FLI claims (72.5%), followed by family care claims from women (13.9%), bonding claims from men (9.0%), and family care claims from men (4.6%).
-Unlike in the case of bonding, where claims were made primarily by women under age 45, claims in the area of family care were more evenly distributed by age and, to a lesser extent, gender. Six of every ten family care claims in 2011 were made by working adults age 45 and over. However, in both the “under 45” and “45 and older” categories, the bulk of family caregiving responsibility fell on women. Of the 5,449 successful family care claims in 2011, 46.4% were filed by women age 45 and over, 28.8% were filed by women under age 45, 13.6% were filed by men age 45 and over, and 11.1% were filed by men under age 45.
-While women represented the majority of caregivers in every age category, men’s share of family care claims relative to women in the same age bracket was highest at the ends of the age spectrum, at nearly 31% for those under 25 and at a full third (33.3%) for those over 65. Conversely, men’s share of caregiving claims was lowest at ages 45 to 54 (22.5%) and ages 55 to 64 (20.3%). These are peak earnings years, when the persistent gap between men’s and women’s wages may impact decision making about who takes even a partially wage-replaced leave.
-Although the nominal value of the average weekly FLI benefit amount increased by 2.3% from 2009 to 2011 ($471 to $482), inflation-adjusted values suggest that the increase in average weekly benefit has not kept pace with inflation: In 2011 dollars, weekly benefits have dropped from $493 to $482.
 
In closing, we make a number of recommendations based on our findings, including the following: 
-Direct additional resources toward expanded outreach and education efforts to make sure all workers—especially low-wage workers—and their families know about FLI and how to access benefits. 
-Expand data collection and reporting efforts. Collect and report individual-level demographic data, including age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, education, and income level of claimants. Provide detailed information about claims determined to be eligible and ineligible, including the reason for determination; the age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, and income level of the claimants; the business size of employer and industry in which workers are employed; and wage data.
-Expand the definition of family member to cover more categories, including grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, and uncles. 
-Increase level of wage replacement to make leave more affordable.
-Extend job protections to all workers who take FLI.