DURHAM — New information released by the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday shows residents support a statewide paid family and medical leave program.
According to researchers at the Carsey School of Public Policy, 78 percent of New Hampshire residents support a program that would provide a portion of wages to workers taking leave for personal or family medical reasons. These reasons include caring for a newborn or newly adopted child or a seriously ill family member as well as tending to one’s own serious illness.
Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy and a research associate professor of sociology at UNH, says that 69 percent of New Hampshire workers are in favor of a requirement that all workers participate and pay into a paid family and medical leave insurance program.
“When those who opposed an all-worker program were asked if their opinion would change if they were told that allowing workers to opt out of the program would result in those who opted in paying substantially more for coverage, 34 percent changed their mind and no longer opposed the requirement of participation,” Smith wrote in a data snapshot posted online.
Democratic leaders and others around the state have been rallying this week in support of SB 1, a paid family and medical leave bill that Gov. Chris Sununu is likely to veto even though it fast-tracked through the Senate and House earlier this year.
In Portsmouth on Monday, Democratic State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark said they have heard stories about individuals who could not be with their spouses at a time when their life partner was dying because they were worried about losing their job.
“That is not a situation that anyone should have to face,” Fuller Clark said.
On Wednesday, State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said paid family and medical leave is important to increase the number of successful businesses in the state.
“What I hear the most in my district is that businesses need workers and they want to keep workers,” Watters said. “Large employers and small employers alike, the people I talk to say they want to do what’s right for their employees.”
Watters said the $5 per employee per week cost of paid family and medical leave could be passed on to employees, who want these provisions from their employers.
Amanda Sears, director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, said paid family and medical leave is one of her organization’s top priorities because it protects both families and employers.
“I was astonished when I was talking to a pretty large manufacturer of thousands of dollars of goods and they told me their cost to recruit an employee,” Sears said.
Sears said research shows that following the birth of a child, women who have paid family and medical leave put in 17 percent more hours in the year following that birth, meaning offering time off immediately after a baby helps retain and strengthen career women who might otherwise fall out of the workforce.
“This is real for employers,” Sears said.
The data snapshot released Wednesday says October of 2018 was the period for which researchers conducted public opinion polls. Their results on paid family and medical leave opinions were statistically unchanged from earlier research conducted in 2016.
Levels of support for paid family and medical leave did not vary significantly between regions in the state, according to Smith.