As one of few industrialized countries without a paid family and medical leave program, support for families shouldering a caregiving burden has been a source of consistent policy debate in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted this as the healthcare system has been stressed. In addition, the pandemic produced shared economic burdens that, in the face of such hardship, created a window of opportunity for political interests to converge in support for PFML. We examine whether the COVID-19 pandemic has facilitated convergence in interests to broaden support for PFML, focusing specifically on support for paid maternity leave (PML).
We investigated the relationship between COVID-19 cases and deaths and support for PML in the United States using data from the nationally representative Nationscape survey linked to weekly data from the COVID Tracking Project. Stratifying pre-pandemic (July 19, 2019- January 5, 2020), post-pandemic (January 6, 2020 – July 1, 2020) periods, we used multivariate ordered logistic regression models to estimate the change in support for PML pre- and post-pandemic. Standard errors were clustered by combining waves (from 1 to 50) with state FIP codes.
We found a significant (p < 0.05) positive relationship between support for PML and women, low-wage earners, parents, Democrats, liberals, disabled populations, and young adults. These estimates were consistent across pre-pandemic and post- pandemic estimates. However, there were negative associations for both White men (b = -0.133, z = -3.55, β = -0.06) and Black men (b = -.119, z = -2.21) with support for paid maternity leave prior to the pandemic. In pandemic estimates, a small decreased in effect size was observed for White men (b = -.104, z = -4.19 β = -0.05), and Black men’s negative support became statistically non-significant (b =-0.06, z = -1.62). Our findings are consistent with previous evidence that young adults, working women with children, and liberals/Democrats support PML policy.
Conclusions and Implications:
The present study deepens our understanding of the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and positions on public policy, specifically paid leave. Variations in support for PML by race and gender, specifically for Black men throughout the pandemic, may suggest a convergence of political interests with supporters of paid leave policy. Results have direct application for policy advocacy efforts that aim to effectively develop and build coalitions across diverse interest groups to advocate for paid family leave policy.
Our findings can help to battle inequities and build solutions, particularly related to organizing and coalition building for social welfare policy. Employing our findings to inform messaging in these campaigns could help increase support for paid leave legislation that would improve the health and lives of millions of American families who have unexperienced undue economic, health, and social burdens resultant from the COVID-19 pandemic.