Colorado voted to approve a ballot measure establishing a paid family and medical leave program in the state on Tuesday.
Colorado’s Proposition 118, the Paid Medical and Family Leave Initiative, passed with roughly 57% of the vote, making it the ninth U.S. state to pass a paid family leave measure and the first one to do so by referendum.
“I think this is going to add a lot of momentum to the national movement since we were the first state to pass it on the ballot,” Sen. Faith Winter (D-CO), who supported the measure, told Yahoo Money. “It shows that this is very popular and the voters want this. That's going to provide momentum both for other states to move forward, but also nationally to move forward with a plan.”
The policy will go into effect in 2024 and will give workers 12 weeks of paid leave that will be funded through a payroll tax. An additional 4 weeks of leave would be available to parents who experience pregnancy or childbirth complications.
An estimated 2.6 million Colorado workers will have access to leave, according to the campaign’s website. Self-employed workers will be eligible, too. Workers will get up to 90% of their pay during their leave, up to the maximum weekly benefit of $1,100 that will be adjusted based on the state average weekly wage.
The expansion of family leave policy comes as the pandemic forced many out of the workforce — especially women — to take care of their children. In September, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force compared to 216,000 men, according to data from the Labor Department.
‘It is a glass half full type of situation’
While paid family leave is becoming available to more Americans, the U.S. is still the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to new mothers and ranked last among 41 high-and middle-income countries worldwide, in a study from the United Nations children's fund UNICEF.
“It is a glass half full type of situation. Is 12 weeks long enough? Is the leave paid generously enough?” Dr. Kat Chzhen, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin and lead author of the UNICEF report, told Yahoo Money. “Compared to the situation of the vast majority of workers currently not having access to any paid leave, Proposition 118 could make a large difference to many families.”
While there’s no nationwide paid family leave policy in the U.S., such policies have been expanding on a state level. In California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and the District of Columbia, workers currently can receive benefits under state paid family leave policies.
Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut, Oregon, and now Colorado have all passed laws and will implement paid family leave policies in the coming months or years. Those state policies provide up to 12 weeks, available to mothers and fathers.
The majority of Americans support the notion that employers should cover the cost of paid family leave. However, there’s a question about whether the government should require employers to provide paid leave or if they should decide for themselves, according to a 2017 report by Pew Research Center.