Paid Family Leave and New Jersey’s Service Sector Workforce

Research BriefPDF

Despite the widespread need to take leave from work when faced with a caregiving obligation or when welcoming a new child to the family, many workers in the U.S. lack comprehensive paid leave with job protection and so are forced to choose between taking care of their families or preserving their jobs. While the U.S. is one of only a few industrialized countries that does not offer comprehensive paid leave with job protection to its citizens, New Jersey has been at the vanguard of providing this valuable benefit so that workers can afford to take off the time they need. But, passing a law does not always guarantee that workers can access paid leave and barriers to access may be especially acute for low-wage hourly workers.

This report utilizes survey data from 1,185 New Jersey service sector workers, collected in Fall 2021 as part of The Shift Project. We harness these data to document the prevalence of needing leave and the characteristics of those with a qualifying leave event. We then examine access to leave among those eligible and consider barriers to access such as lack of knowledge about the benefits. Then, we ask workers with a qualifying paid leave event how they progressed through the application process, asking about points of attrition. We are also able to examine a set of consequences of gaining access or lacking access to the leave program. Finally, we use this analysis to recommend program changes that would address the needs of low-wage workers.