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Evan Horowitz

Few will benefit from Boston’s paid parental leave measure

Boston’s City Council is introducing a measure that would provide paid family leave to some city employees. Mayor Martin J. Walsh has already come out in support of the measure.

There’s just one problem: The plan is limited to nonunion employees, and 90 percent of Boston city employees belong to a union. Ultimately, only around 1,000 people would actually be eligible to receive this paid family leave benefit.

What exactly is Boston proposing?

New parents would get six weeks of paid leave, provided they have worked for the city for at least one year. During the first two weeks, they would be paid their full salary, followed by 75 percent pay in weeks three and four, and 50 percent in weeks five and six.

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What good is paid family leave?

A wide range of studies have shown that paid family provides significant benefits to parents, children, and employers.

For kids. Paid leave increases the amount of time new parents spend with their children. It also seems to improve the health of those children.

For working parents. When parents don’t get paid leave, it’s usually the mothers who cut back their careers — which contributes to the gender-wage gap and generally reinforces workplace disparities. Providing paid leave encourages men to take on more child care and it increases the odds that women will return to their careers.

For employers. Generous leave policies help employers attract and retain good workers. What is more, they reduce turnover. Paying an employee for maternity or paternity leave increases the likelihood that they will return to work, which is sometimes cheaper than having to train someone new.

What are the costs?

Paid leave can be expensive, but given how few employees are even eligible for Boston’s plan, the budgetary impact is likely to be extremely limited. Even if we generously assume that the average income of city workers is $75,000, and that a whopping 10 percent of them take leave all in one year, the total cost would be under $800,000, or around .03 percent of the city’s budget.

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Why are so few eligible?

If you belong to a union, then your pay and benefits are set through a union contract. And the city can’t change those benefits without renegotiating the contracts. So a new policy like this one only applies to the roughly 500 to 1,200 city employees who aren’t in a union.

It’s possible, however, that the next round of union contracts will incorporate the new family leave policy, which would bring paid parental leave to more of the city’s 19,000 employees.

Have other cities tried this?

San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, Pittsburgh, and a host of other cities provide paid family leave to nonunion municipal employees. Ohio, Virginia, and Illinois do the same for state employees. And President Obama has ordered federal agencies to introduce paid leave.

Only a handful of states — California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey — guarantee paid leave for all workers, not just in the public sector but across the economy. In each case, it’s the employees who cover the costs via an increase in the payroll tax.

How about the rest of the world?

Every other industrialized country provides some kind of paid parental leave, most often for mothers but increasingly for fathers as well.

Is six weeks a lot?

Pittsburgh and Chicago also offer six weeks of paid family leave, but there’s nothing special about that number. San Francisco offers up to 12 weeks, Rhode Island just four.

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Compared to the rest of the world, six weeks is quite minimal. Australia provides 18 weeks of parental leave. Canada and the UK extend paid benefits for a year, and it’s even longer in Japan and Korea.

What happens next in Massachusetts?

It’s possible that this effort to provide paid leave to new mothers and fathers in Boston city government could inspire other cities to follow suit and perhaps build momentum for a new, statewide policy — like the one introduced last year in nearby Rhode Island.

Measured by its immediate impact, though, Boston’s new policy is a very small step indeed.


Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz