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Fewer Than 1 in 5 Female Employees Had Access to Emergency Paid Leave During the Pandemic

RyanJLane

Fewer than 1 in 5 women — 15% — worked for employers that provided emergency paid leave during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to research from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

In contrast, 22% of male workers had access to this benefit, which includes sick time and family and medical leave.

The results are based on an online survey, conducted between November and December 2020, that also found 35% of female workers currently are caregivers or have been at some point during their careers. That's less than the 41% of male workers who said the same.

The data is based on a subsample of 3,109 workers at for-profit companies. Consequently, the survey does not capture women who have left the workforce due to caregiving duties, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic.

Transamerica's research overall points to women and men being similarly likely to be caregivers, according to Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of Transamerica Institute and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

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Their research also indicates that younger generations, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are also highly likely to take on caregiving duties, in addition to older generations.

"Family caregiving is an everybody issue," Collinson said.

Transamerica's research, titled "Life in the Pandemic: Women's Health, Finances and Retirement Outlook," comes as Washington lawmakers are poised to decide whether or not to include paid family leave in a social spending bill that is up for consideration.

President Joe Biden had proposed 12 weeks' paid leave for workers, which has been whittled down to four. Still, because the proposal has been taken out and then added back into the legislation, it is unclear whether it would make it into a final version, provided that makes it to Biden's desk for his signature.

Notably, paid leave is still "relatively rare," Collinson said.

Workers may have access to unpaid leave, so long as they qualify, under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Whether or not full-time workers have access to paid or unpaid leave is largely at the discretion of their employers, though some states have stepped in with their own policies.

Part-time workers, in particular, largely do not have access to the same benefits given to full-time employees, Collinson said. That means those workers, often women and people of color, don't have the option to take leave, she said.

"The fact that we now have a very active, spirited national dialogue on paid family leave is cause for celebration," Collinson said.

Short-term setbacks can hinder workers' earning power or access to benefits. Longer-term, workers may have a tough time re-entering the work force and find they have less saved when they reach retirement.

Having a formal paid leave policy can help shore up workers' retirement security, she said.

"Women continue to be at a greater risk than men of not achieving a financially secure retirement, and this issue has persisted for decades," Collinson said.

Ideally, women faced with caregiving responsibilities need to carefully consider any changes to their employment in order to preserve their long-term financial security, the report recommended. That may include exploring taking a leave or part-time employment rather than exiting the workforce altogether.

Most female caregivers surveyed — 83% — indicated they have made work adjustments due to caregiving responsibilities. The most common changes included missing days of work, with 36%; working an alternative schedule, 28%; or reducing their hours, 27%.

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