82 percent of N.H. residents support paid family and medical leave

Monitor staff
Thursday, September 22, 2016

Those most likely to take time off to care for family members – women – are also those least likely to have access to paid time off.

And while there are gender differences in support for paid medical and family leave, a vast majority of Granite Staters support such a program – and are willing to pay for it.

Four out of five New Hampshire residents support a paid family and medical leave insurance law, a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll has found.

The results of the poll were released by the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy in an issue brief last month and presented Wednesday at a New Hampshire Women’s Foundation summit in Manchester.

Kristin Smith, a family demographer with the Carsey School and the brief’s co-author, said she believes this was the first time New Hampshire residents had been asked in a poll about their support for paid family and medical leave.

That 82 percent of New Hampshire residents strongly or somewhat support a paid medical and family leave program doesn’t surprise her, she said, because national surveys have reflected similar numbers – and also because the need is real.

“Workers are living this. So for them it’s kind of a no-brainer,” she said.

For Jeff Baker, the president and CEO of the Manchester-based exhibit manufacturing firm Image 4, family-friendly policies will make New Hampshire better able to compete in the national marketplace.

The state’s demographics are rapidly skewing older, he said, and that’s a problem. Paid sick time and parental leave could help younger people in the state, he said.

“If we don’t do it and Massachusetts does, or Connecticut does, there’s going to be an outflow,” he told an audience of a few dozen employers, legislators and advocates at Wednesday’s event.

Baker also said he noticed his younger employees were much less likely to want to set down roots because of economic anxiety.

“What I see is a reticence to start a family, a reticence to buy a home,” he said. “We need to create that anchor as employers.”

A majority of survey respondents also said they would be willing to pay for the program. Sixty-nine percent of employed respondents said they would be willing to pay $5 a week into a paid family and medical leave insurance program.

That’s “overwhelming support,” Smith said.

The $5 figure comes from a simulation run by Jeff Hayes, a researcher at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C., using New Hampshire-specific demographic data.

The model assumed all employees would participate in the program, and it assumed a wage reimbursement rate of 60 percent. The reimbursement would be capped at $996 per week. According to that model, the total cost of the program – essentially an insurance pool – would be $155.7 million annually, for an average weekly premium, per worker, of $5.11. That premium could be split between the employer and employee, or paid for entirely out of payroll deductions.

Simulations that assume fewer employees will participate – either because only firms of a certain size must participate, or because the program is optional for employees – reflected lower total costs, Smith said during a presentation at the summit. But in all cases where fewer workers took part in the program, the cost per participant went up.

“This demonstrates how spreading a the cost out over all workers makes a program more affordable,” she said.

Smith also cautioned that an opt-in program, instead of a mandatory program, would probably have higher rates of people taking leave along with fewer people paying into the pool. That should further push up the cost per-worker.

“I’m not sure it would be sustainable,” she said.

Though men were strongly supportive, significantly fewer supported paid medical and family leave compared with women, according to the poll. Eighty-eight percent of all women surveyed expressed support for the program, while 76 percent of men did.

Men who are married, employed, have higher education levels or are in higher-income families reflected the lowest levels of support for paid family and medical leave compared with women.

Smith said women are probably more supportive of the proposal because they’re less likely to have access to paid time off and more likely to need it. According to the poll, 85 percent of employed New Hampshire mothers have taken paid or unpaid family and medical leave, compared with 53 percent of fathers.

Meanwhile, 56 percent of Granite State women don’t have access to paid parental leave, compared with 42 percent of men, according to the poll. Forty-four percent of New Hampshire women don’t have access to paid sick time, compared with 32 percent of men.

Unequal access to paid time off is likely in part a function of the type of work women do. Eighty-five percent of part-time workers either lack access to paid time off in the case of their own illness, a family member’s illness or a new child. Nearly twice as many women were employed part-time compared with men in 2014, Smith noted in her brief.

Support for paid leave crossed party lines, but Democrats were far more likely to want such legislation than Republican or independent voters, according to the poll.

Ninety-nine percent of Democratic women support a paid leave law, as do 96 percent of Democratic men. Seventy percent of independent women and 82 percent of Republican women support it; 64 percent of independent men and 69 percent of Republican men do.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)