A new report on paid family leave finds many Americans whocould most benefit from such policies are left out in the cold bylarge corporations.

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Headlines in recent years have highlighted companies whichexpanded family leave benefits to attract and retain workers, butthe study, conducted by Paid Leave forthe United States (PL+US), finds such generous policies areconfined to a relatively small number of Americans.

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Salaried workers, the report finds, are indeed seeing expandedfamily leave policies, but the many hourly-wageworkers lower on the corporate ladder are often not included insuch benefits.

An elite benefit

“In the United States today paid family leave is an elitebenefit: 94 percent of low-income working people have no access topaid family leave,” the report says, drawing on data from the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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“Many of the companies that employ the most people have policiesthat provide significantly more paid leave to corporate employees,while offering little or nothing at all to hourly/field/part-timeworkers.”

Brianna Cayo Cotter, chief of staff for PL+US, said her group’sstudy found that in general, the people who need paid family leavethe most are the least likely to get it.

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For example, the study found that people who make more than$75,000 annually are twice as likely to receive a paid leavebenefit than those who make less than $30,000 a year. In addition,the study found 1 in 4 new mothers in the U.S. are back at workjust 10 days after childbirth.

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Related: AmEx unveils big weapon in the parental leave armsrace

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“The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world without anational paid family leave program, so people are largely at themercy of their employer for this vital benefit,” Cotter says.“Research shows that the lack of access to paid family leave has apowerful negative impact on family health and financial stability.”

Lawmakers -- starting to pay attention?

The issue of paid family leave has largely flown under theradar in recent years, with some communities and states passinglaws to expand the benefit. Nothing like a bipartisan consensus hasemerged, but the 2016 campaign saw both major party presidentialcandidates talking about some form of paid family leave.

Over the last week, several media outlets have reported PresidentTrump will make good on a campaign promise and offer a national policy for paid family leave. The plan would give mothersand fathers six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption ofa child, to be paid for through the unemployment insurance system.

Traditionally, Republicans have opposed a mandated approach to thisissue, so the response on Capitol Hill remains to be seen. For herpart, Cotter says the Trump plan is inadequate.

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“Trump’s new proposal — six weeks partially paid for newbabies only — is a far cry from the solution we need,” shesays.

Different rules for different workers

The PL+US study outlines how corporate America has approached the issue ofpaid family leave. It finds such benefits are often limited toemployees in corporate headquarters.

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Starbucks, for example, provides 18 weeks of fully paid leavefor new mothers and 12 weeks of fully paid leave for fathers incorporate headquarters, but only six weeks for birth moms who arein-store employees, and no time off for dads or adoptive parents inthat category.

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Likewise, Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, provides 12weeks of paid leave for birth mothers who are corporate employees,but give only partial pay for six to eight weeks for birth moms whoare hourly employees — if they work full time. Walmart has 1.2million hourly-wage employees in the U.S.

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The study includes a list of 36 large employers, many of whomhave different policies in place for corporate workers, as opposedto hourly-wage workers. In addition, few employers offer equitablepolicies for dads or adoptive parents.

The study finds another issue: outsourcing work to subcontractors.

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“We further found evidence that the outsourcing of work tolow-wage, low-margin subcontractors by many large employersfurthers the schism between those who have access to paid familyleave and those who do not,” the report says.

A role for HR leaders?

Some have speculated that the demand from workers for paid family leave policies will result in manymore employers expanding benefits in that area — even iflegislation becomes gridlocked.

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However, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), saysin a white paper earlier this year that as a whole,change is not likely to happen overnight. “Despite widespreadpublic interest — particularly from younger workers in themillennial generation — in evolving leave models to supportcaregiving, only 17 percent of employers offered paid parentalleave in 2016,” SHRM says, drawing from an earlier study.

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Alionna Gardner, an HR generalist/consultantwith Kiwi Partners Inc., an HR consulting firm in New YorkCity, says the U.S. has a long way to go to catch up with the normsof European countries, which have had generous family leavepolicies for years.

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SHRM’s paper suggests that HR departments may be key players inthe evolution of this benefit.

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“[HR professionals] not only can encourage their companies toconsider offering paid leave, but also can work to create culturesthat embrace caregiving,” the report said. “After all, itultimately makes no difference whether a company offers time off ifemployees are too scared to use it.”

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“HR has to be the leader in the evolution of parental leave inAmerica,” Gardner says in the SHRM report.

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“We are the glue that holds businesses together and, moreimportantly, the catalyst that invokes change in policy andorganizational development. Offering paid leave is a strategic movethat allows businesses to become increasingly competitive.”

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