The state of paid family leave and family-friendly practices in Colorado

Written by: Jacqueline Tiwonge Nkhonjera
Date Posted: December 11, 2020

Colorado voters recently passed a ballot initiative to create a statewide paid family and medical leave program. Understanding the current landscape of family leave and its impacts on maternal and infant health is essential to improving the lives of all families in Colorado.  

Health eMoms, a program from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has released a new report this month that focuses on the state of paid family leave and family-friendly practices in Colorado.  The data within the report come from the Health eMoms data collection system, which measures experiences with paid leave and family-friendly employment practices among people who are in the postpartum period 

Here’s what our fellow Coloradans are experiencing 

  • More than half of the individuals surveyed took some form of paid family leave, but access to paid leave remains inequitable in our state; just 40 percent of Hispanic women were able to use any paid leave compared to 60 percent of white women. Disparities in educational attainment, which are driven by residential segregation, as well as the resulting limited employment opportunities, contribute to this significant inequity. 
  • For individuals on Medicaid, family leave is often unpaid, pushing it even further from reach for these ColoradansNearly half of respondents enrolled in Medicaid indicated they could not afford to take leave. National data show that black and Hispanic women are more likely to be enrolled in Medicaid, indicating the affordability issue is likely to impact postpartum individuals of color more than those who are white.  
  • Individuals who were able to take 12 weeks of leave or more were more likely to be breastfeeding at 2-4 months postpartum. Breastfeeding requires time and space, and 12 weeks of leave is considered the recommended minimum amount of leave time. Experiencing stressful life events also has implications for exclusive breastfeeding. Stressful life events are more common among families of color due to historical trauma. Access to paid leave may alleviate the stress that a new mother experiences. 
  • When postpartum individuals return to work, they are not always met with supportive environments. Forty percent of those surveyed indicated they could not make flexible scheduling changes once they returned, while only 50 percent had access to break time and a clean and private space to pump breastmilk 
  • Low-income individuals face disproportionate barriers to accessing high-quality, affordable childcare and education. Coloradans who identified as Hispanic are more likely than white Coloradans to be living below the poverty line and are more likely to not have access to quality child care. 

If you are interested in exploring the Health eMoms data more thoroughly, refer to the Health eMoms survey data webpage. We look forward to working with policymakers to ensure the implementation of paid family and medical leave, which should be available to all beginning in 2024, is responsive to these disparities and the experiences shared by families around the state. 

Jacqueline Tiwonge Nkhonjera

About Jacqueline Tiwonge Nkhonjera

Jacqueline Nkhonjera is the Communications and Advocacy Fellow for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In this role, she supports strategic advocacy and communications tactics. This includes digital and print communications as well as community outreach and engagement. Before coming to the Children’s Campaign, Jacqueline worked as a public policy fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado, and as a journalist at the National Public Radio (NPR) Education Desk. She graduated from Colorado College in May of 2020 with a degree in Political Science.