Five Ways Washington State’s Recent Paid Leave Law Breaks New Ground

Five Ways Washington State’s Recent Paid Leave Law Breaks New Ground

By Kelly Rolfes-Haase

On July 5, Gov. Jay Inslee signed Washington State’s new Family Leave Act (FLA) into law. Starting on January 1, 2020, eligible employees will be entitled to up to twelve weeks of paid, job-protected leave for qualifying family or medical reasons, capped at sixteen weeks of combined family and medical leave, plus an additional two weeks available to mothers who experience pregnancy-related complications.

Washington joins California (2004), New Jersey (2009), Rhode Island (2014), New York (2018), and the District of Columbia (2020) in putting a state-level paid family leave policy in the books. Compared with these existing state paid leave systems, however, Washington’s law has several key features that make it a pioneer on the paid family and medical leave policy landscape.

Below are five ways in which Washington State’s FLA breaks new ground.

1.      Independent Funding System

In designing their paid family leave policies, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York were able to build upon the administrative infrastructure of their existing temporary disability insurance (TDI) systems by expanding benefits to cover periods of family care. Because Washington State does not have a TDI system, its paid family leave policy will require the establishment of new administrative architecture and a trust fund for the collection and disbursement of benefits. The new law calls for premiums to be collected starting in 2019, one year prior to when benefits will be available, and for the first two years, premiums have been set at 0.4 percent of an employee’s wages (up to an income limit of around $130,000).[1] Thereafter, the state will set premiums based on the balance in the trust fund account. The premiums are currently set to be shared between employees and employers, with employees paying 63 percent of the premiums and most employers covering the remaining 37 percent.

2.      Greater Coverage for Low-Income Workers

Washington’s law provides lower income workers with a proportionately higher wage replacement rate than higher income workers with the goal of making leave more accessible to all workers.[2] Employees taking leave will receive 90 percent of their wages on earnings at or below half of Washington’s average weekly wage, plus 50 percent of their wages on earnings above Washington’s average weekly wage, up to a maximum benefit (currently set at $1,000/week). This makes Washington State’s family and medical leave payments among the most generous in the country, as existing state programs provide only between 55 percent and 67 percent replacement rates.

Unlike the family and medical leave laws in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, eligibility is based on hours worked and not on earnings. The FLA covers all employees in Washington State (with the exception of federal employees) who have worked for at least 820 hours in the last four out of five calendar quarters (about 15 hours per week, on average). In addition, workers who are self-employed may choose to participate in the program as long as they opt in for at least three years.

3.      Maximum Length of Leave

WA State Paid Leave Blog New Law

In addition to the twelve weeks of paid family leave provided through Washington’s law, the FLA also provides employees with up to twelve weeks of medical leave, with the total period of benefits capped at sixteen weeks (or eighteen weeks for women who experience pregnancy-related complications). Washington’s law makes it one of the most generous in terms of the maximum length of family leave available. Although California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island allow for significant periods of medical leave under their TDI systems, they guarantee only four to six weeks of leave for family reasons.

4.      Job Protections

The FLA provides job protections that extend beyond the twelve weeks of protection provided by the FMLA: up to the law’s cap of sixteen weeks of combined family and medical leave (or eighteen weeks for women who experience pregnancy-related complications). The law uses the more stringent FMLA requirements for employer size and hours worked for access to job protection benefits, however, which is estimated to exclude about 40 percent of private-sector workers nationally.

As a result, the FLA’s job-protection benefits are only available to employees working for larger employers (50+ employees) who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last year.[3]

5.      Support for Businesses

All employers in Washington State (including state and local governments) must participate in the family and medical leave insurance program, although waivers are available for employers that already have private paid family and medical leave programs in place that provide at least the benefits guaranteed under the state law.

The law also provides additional supports for small businesses. First, employers with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer portion of the insurance premium, although their employees must make contributions and are eligible for paid leave. Second, if small employers choose to contribute to the fund, they may apply for a grant to assist with the cost of hiring a temporary worker or to cover other wage-related costs associated with employee leave. Finally, employers with 150 employees or fewer may apply for the same grants, all of which are funded by the family and medical leave insurance account.

Washington State’s new Family Leave Act represents an exciting development on the state-level paid family and medical leave policy scene. The law’s independent funding system, the progressivity, generosity, and coverage of its paid benefits, the length of leave available, the additional job-protection benefits provided, and its supports for small businesses make the FLA unique compared with existing state policies. Washington’s decision to implement a paid family and medical leave system in the way that it has, to borrow the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, will make it a laboratory of democracy for the rest of the country to watch and learn from moving forward.

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[1] The wage base limit subject to taxation for Social Security

[2] California is set to adopt a more progressive benefit structure starting in 2018, and the District of Columbia’s leave payments will also be progressive once they are implemented in 2020.

[3] In order to receive job protection under FMLA, employees must work for an employer with 50 or more employees, have worked for her/his employer for at least one year, and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last twelve months.

Intern Spotlight: Abigail Clayborne

abigail.jpgName: Abigail Clayborne

Major/Year/School: Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Accountancy and a Minor in Economics. Rising Junior. The George Washington University.

Position: Administrative (Accounting/HR) Intern

Past Internships: none

What drew you to an internship at IWPR?

I knew I wanted an accounting or business internship this summer to jumpstart my business career, but I wanted to be a part of an organization with a greater purpose than just crunching numbers. My internship at IWPR has allowed me to gain valuable business skills while also supporting and learning from a forward-thinking organization.

What does a typical day at IWPR look like?

Each day is different; I could be helping with next year’s budgets, managing accounts payable, or reconciling bank accounts. I love working with numbers and am always eager to take on a challenging problem!

What has been the best part of interning at IWPR so far?

Hands down, the people. Everyone here is incredibly intelligent and passionate about the work that they do. I am surrounded by some very talented and driven people who inspire me to work hard and learn as much as I can each day that I am here.

Any advice for future IWPR interns?

Make the most of your time at IWPR and jump at every available opportunity— you won’t realize how much you have learned and grown until you are done with your internship!

What are your future career interests?

I have just accepted an internship offer with PwC for next summer. I hope to stay with the firm after graduation and see where the opportunities take me!

Favorite lunch spot? CAVA— its fast, easy, and delicious. It doesn’t hurt that it’s only a block away either.

Favorite D.C. museum? The Air and Space Museum. I am still amazed by the fact that we are able to fly massive metal objects through the air!

Favorite podcast or reading material on your commute? I only have a 15 minute walk to work, but I love listening to some smooth Indie tunes on my way in.

What else do you like to do in your spare time? I am a cheerleader at GW, so I love meeting up with my teammates and working on stunts or new skills whenever we can!

Stay tuned throughout the summer as we highlight other IWPR interns and learn more about IWPR’s internship program here.

IWPR Update: Black Women’s Equal Pay, Work-Family Supports, and Access to Child Care

IWPR Update: Black Women’s Equal Pay, Work-Family Supports, and Access to Child Care

This week at IWPR, we focused on the Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, family poverty, child care, and higher education. Here’s everything you need to know:

5 Stats to Know on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

Monday, July 31, was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, marking how far into 2017 Black women must work to earn what White men earned in the previous year. The average Black woman working full-time earns only 63 cents for every dollar earned by a White man. This gap is wider than for women overall, who earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

>>Read the new blog

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150 Years Later, Pay Gap Still Hurts Children

Equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, has long been an issue in the United States. An 1869 Letter to the Editor of The New York Times questioned the fairness of the Treasury Department paying female clerks less than one-half the salary of men doing the same work. The women workers were not the only ones to suffer: “Most of them, too, have families to support; being, nearly all, either widows or orphans made by the [Civil] war.” Nearly 150 years later, the gender pay gap continues to exert a pernicious impact on children and families.

>>Read the one pager on how equal pay could cut poverty for working women by half.

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The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?

A recent article published in the Saint Louis University Public Law Review by IWPR researchers Ariane Hegewisch and Emma Williams-Baron uses state-by-state data on earnings, employment, and work-family supports from IWPR’s Status of Women in the States project to draw attention to the links between the work-family policy infrastructure and the gender wage gap.

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​Let’s Make Child Care More Accessible

In a recent opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed, Sarah Labadie highlighted the need for accessible and affordable child care. President Trump’s proposed budget plans to eliminate the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS). The program provides child care for low-income parents enrolled in institutions of higher education and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Since 2004, the number of college students raising children has gone up by 30 percent — at the same time, availability of on-campus child care is dwindling.

>>Read the full article

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The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?

The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?

By Emma Williams-Baron and Ariane Hegewisch

Progress towards closing the wage gap has stalled over the past fifteen years. Despite women’s higher educational attainment, the earnings ratio between women and men who worked full-time, year-round was just 79.6% in 2015, only marginally higher than it was ten years earlier (77.0% in 2005). In discussions about the gender wage gap, the impact of women’s choices is often brought up. For example, some commentators say that earnings differences are due in part to women choosing lower-paying occupations, such as teachers, while men are choosing higher paid occupations, such as airline pilots, and/or that women are more likely to cut back paid work while caring for children, while men choose to work full-time. But such choices are not made in a vacuum. Options and choices are shaped by policy decisions—such as the public funding for preschool education or the availability of paid parental leave.

A recent article published in the Saint Louis University Public Law Review by IWPR researchers Ariane Hegewisch and Emma Williams-Baron uses state-by-state data on earnings, employment, and work-family supports from IWPR’s Status of Women in the States project to draw attention to the links between the work-family policy infrastructure and the gender wage gap. The article shows that:

  • The gender wage gap differs substantially between states. The ratio of women’s to men’s earnings is highest in New York, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, at 87.6, 87.4, and 87.0 percent, respectively, and is the lowest in Wyoming, Utah, and Nebraska, at 67.9, 70.0, and 73.1 percent.
  • States vary significantly by availability of work-life balance policies offered; only 16 states have at least one type of paid leave legislation, including paid sick leave, paid family leave, and temporary disability insurance at the state or local level. In 10 states more than 60 percent of children are enrolled in public pre-schools, and in 12 states, fewer than 20 percent.
  • The five states that score highest on work-family supports (according to IWPR’s Work-Family Index)—New York, California, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and Rhode Island—are among the states with the lowest gender wage gap. The five states with the worst scores on the Work-Family Index—Indiana, Utah, Montana, Mississippi, and Wyoming—are all in the bottom ten states when it comes to the gender wage gap.

For more data and analysis, see the full article:

Hegewisch, Ariane and Emma Williams-Baron. 2017. “The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?” Saint Louis University Public Law Review 36 (July). <> (accessed July 26, 2017).

Intern Spotlight: Greg Nelson

Greg_Nelson 1.jpegName: Greg Nelson

Major/Year/School: Political Science, M.A. Candidate at Appalachian State University

Position: Research Intern

Past Internships: South Carolina Green Party

What drew you to an internship at IWPR?

Much of my tertiary education has centered around comparative politics and international relations. When I learned that IWPR was seeking to branch out from domestic politics and into the international arena, I saw an opportunity to use my experience to advance attainment of this goal while learning how to practically apply a feminist lens to public policy through the think tank medium.

What research areas do you focus on?

I focus on two areas. The first is in comparative transatlantic foreign policy of the United States and European Union member states. The second is the role of women in international relations. This research will be included in books that we hope to have published in 2018.

What has been the best part of interning at IWPR so far?

Amid millennia of oppression, women are increasingly entering leadership positions and proving themselves just as capable as men. IWPR serves as an example of this, with women rejecting the unequal societal status quo while actively working to promote positive change through scholarly collaboration. The best part about interning here is watching this process unfold and the spring of inspiration it provides.

Any advice for future IWPR interns?

Two things. Firstly, although you likely prefer one over the other, hone both your qualitative and quantitative research skills. It will prove useful academically, professionally, and in terms of personal development.

Secondly, maintain your idealism and engage in self-care. It is easy to get discouraged and frustrated in this field, but remember that exposing problems in society is the first step toward addressing them. Work hard, but know when to step away.

What are your future career interests?

After finishing my current degree program, I would like to work for a think tank or in human rights advocacy for a few years before pursuing a PhD.

Favorite lunch spot? D.C. is an incredibly diverse city with food seemingly from every region of the globe within walking distance of the institute. I’ve tried to mix it up: Afghan today, Cuban tomorrow.

Favorite D.C. museum? It’s a tie between the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum. I also recommend the African American History Museum. It is a profound experience that casts light on dark aspects of American history and emboldens one’s resolve in the struggle for equality.

Favorite podcast or reading material on your commute? I usually listen to Cam and Ray’s Cold War Podcast while browsing news and current affairs sources.

What else do you like to do in your spare time? I enjoy hiking, camping, discussing politics, and daydreaming about the ideal society.

Stay tuned throughout the summer as we highlight other IWPR interns and learn more about IWPR’s internship program here.

Intern Spotlight: Arwa Ali

IMG_6009.jpgName: Arwa Ali

Major/Year/School: B.A. in Economics, Class of ’18, Cornell University

Position: Research Intern

Organizations: Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (worship committee), Humanity First at Cornell (Fundraising Director), Ithaca Welcomes Refugees (Arabic interpreter trainee), Roosevelt Institute at Cornell (Policy Analyst)

What drew you to an internship at IWPR?

I have a variety of career interests, but they all revolve around social welfare and economic empowerment, which is how I landed on being an economics major. Though I applied to many internships, I felt that IWPR truly integrated all of my interests and would provide me with the most growth, particularly because women are so central to maintaining a positive community structure. Going onto the IWPR website always got me excited about all of the impactful research they put out, and I knew I wanted to contribute to that!

What does a typical day as a research intern at IWPR look like?

The one thing I can expect daily at IWPR is the 12:30pm group message on the “lunchtrain” chat.  Other than that, each day presents a new learning opportunity. I check in with my supervisor every couple of days to see if there are new projects I can take on, which is always exciting. As a research intern, you can expect to be asked to fact-check IWPR publications, which is ensures that a draft has accurate statistics and information.

The most enjoyable part for me has been doing research to collect information on a variety of topics, including sex trafficking in the United States and youth violence in Latin America and the Caribbean. These topics are hard to research, on an emotional level, but learning about the reality of these issues is necessary in order to combat them.

What’s the best part of interning at IWPR?

The best part for me has definitely been the people. Everyone I have encountered at IWPR is genuinely passionate about bettering the lives of others and ready to put in the necessary work to do so. The work environment is encouraging even though the state of our world isn’t so much at the moment. I got to attend the release of the Status of Black Women in the United States report (which I also got to help fact-check!) and hear Alicia Garza, of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Black Lives Matter, speak in person; the amount of valuable information in that one report is amazing! Seeing how research can be used to put out hard facts and figures to catch the attention of policymakers is truly inspiring.

What are your future career interests?

My interests revolve around social welfare, but I still haven’t settled on a single career path. I am currently looking to pursue grad school in either public health or public policy after completing my undergraduate degree.

Any advice for future IWPR interns?

There are so many amazing people that work here and come from a wide range of career backgrounds. Take the time to get to know them (not just your supervisor) and learn about their specific areas of research and how they got to where they are.

Favorite lunch spot? I have only eaten out once since I’ve been here (to be fair, I was fasting for Ramadan for a good chunk of my time here). I ate at CAVA, and it is SO good.

Favorite D.C. museum? I don’t know if it’s my favorite (haven’t gone yet), but the museum currently at the top of my list is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’ve tried to get weekend tickets twice so far and failed (ticket sales are same-day starting 6:30am).

Favorite podcast or reading material on your commute? I’ve recently started listening to a podcast called Strangers, and it’s really eye-opening to listen to the stories of others.

What else do you like to do in your spare time I like to spend most of my spare time hanging out with friends, but if I’m not doing that, you can catch me going on a YouTube video spree, drinking tea (fave!), or sleeping.

Stay tuned throughout the summer as we highlight other IWPR interns and learn more about IWPR’s internship program here.

IWPR Research News Roundup – July 2017


Women View Online Harassment Differently Than Men

By Samantha Leffler |  | 7.20.2017

The author of a new Pew Research Center study on online harassment, Maeve Duggan, said one difficulty she encountered was the subjective nature of online harassment, which people define and react to very differently. “When it comes to online harassment, there’s no one-size-fits-all option,” she explained. Not surprisingly, the nature of the harassment varied based on gender. Though men are somewhat more likely than women to be harassed online (44 percent vs. 37 percent) women — particularly younger women — are more frequently the targets of sexual harassment online.”

Citing: Online Harassment 2017, by Maeve Duggan, Pew Research Center, July 2017

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Women of Color Don’t Feel Safe in Science Jobs

By Meredith Clark | | 7.10.2017

According to a study published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, of the astronomers and planetary scientists surveyed, 40% of the women of color reported feeling unsafe in the workplace because of their gender or sex, and 28% reported it was due to their race. The study’s authors conducted an Internet survey of 474 women.

Citing: Double Jeopardy in Astronomy and Planetary Science: Women of Color Face Greater Risks of Gendered and Racial Harassment, by Kathryn Clancy, Katharine Lee, Erica Rodgers, and Christina Richey, Journal of Geophysical Research, July 2017

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How Party and Place Shape Americans’ Views on Discrimination

By Gene Demby | | 7.2.2017

Younger white people are much more likely than older white people to say that black people face a lot of discrimination. Most Republicans reject the idea that black people do. Black people are the racial group least likely to support same-sex marriage but the group most opposed to laws that would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ+ people. These are just some of the findings in a massive new study on American attitudes about how Americans perceive discrimination, from the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan group that studies attitudes about culture and public policy.

Citing: Who Sees Discrimination? Attitudes on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Race, and Immigration Status, by Daniel Cox, Rachel Lienesch, and Robert P. Jones , Public Religion Research Institute, June 2017

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Paid Leave for Parents: What’s the right amount of time?

By Kelly Wallace | | 6.29.2017

After conducting a deep dive project, where Schulte and her New America colleagues reviewed numerous studies and talked to a range of experts, they have a recommendation for the optimal duration of paid leave according to available science: Based on infant health, maternal health, gender equality and female labor force participation, they recommend six months to a year of paid family leave.

Citing: Paid Family Leave: How Much Time Is Enough?, by Brigid SchulteAlieza DuranaBrian Stout, and Jonathan MoyerNew America Foundation, June 2017

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Black Girls Are Viewed as Less Innocent and More Adultlike Than White Girls: Study

By Monique Judge | 6.28.2017

The study found that survey participants believe that black girls need less nurturing, need less protection, need to be supported and comforted less, are more independent, know more about adult topics and know more about sex. These results have far-reaching implications and can be a contributing factor to the disproportionate rates of punitive treatment in the education and juvenile-justice systems for black girls.

Citing: Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, by Rebecca EpsteinJamilia JBlake, and Thalia GonzálezCenter on Poverty and Inequality, June 2017

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The Gender Wage Gap and Work-Family Supports: Women’s Choices or Policy Choices?

By Ariane Hegewisch and Emma Williams-Baron | Saint Louis University Public Law Review | July 2017

Progress towards closing the gender wage gap has slowed markedly since the early 2000s, at approximately the same time that increases in the labor force participation of mothers also stalled. […] States with better work-family provisions, such as paid family leave and publicly provided prekindergarten classes, are likely to have a lower gender wage gap than states with few supports for working families. […] Rather than focusing on women’s choices as a causation of the gender wage gap, the issue of choice concerns public policies. Without a significantly expanded work-family infrastructure it is unlikely that the gender wage gap will close.

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A Paired-Testing Pilot Study of Housing Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples and Transgender Individuals

By Diane K. Levy, Douglas A. Wissoker, Claudia Aranda, Brent Howell, Rob Pitingolo, Sarale H. Sewell, and Robert Santos | Urban Institute | June 2017

Much of what we know about housing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community comes from surveys, but these personal experiences may only represent the most blatant forms of discrimination. To more accurately document discrimination against same-sex couples and transgender home seekers, the Urban Institute conducted studies in Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC metro areas using paired testing, a research tool that can capture discrimination in action. Their findings indicate that in the early stages of the rental search process, housing providers discriminate against gay men and transgender people on some treatment measures but treat lesbians and heterosexual women comparably.

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Meet the Out-of-Work

By Martha Ross and Natalie Holmes | The Brookings Institution | June 2017

Even in the midst of a prolonged economic expansion with a low national unemployment rate, not everyone who wants work can find it. Both job availability and demographics vary markedly around the country, yielding diverse local populations wanting and/or needing work. This analysis aims to deepen understanding of out-of-work Americans, and support local officials in their efforts to help these individuals find jobs. Brookings provides a unique perspective on adults ages 25-64 who are out of work across the United States, using cluster analysis to segment the out-of-work population into distinct groups based on factors such as educational attainment, age, work history, disability, English language proficiency, and family status. Detailed information on these groups is presented, accompanied by information on appropriate and effective programs in order to help local officials, funders, and other stakeholders develop, strengthen, or diversify strategies to connect their residents to employment.

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Access to Reproductive Health Care for U.S.-Based Refugees

By Jamila Taylor and Anusha Ravi | Center for American Progress | June 2017

At the intersection of reproductive health care access and refugee resettlement in the United States exists a community that is uniquely affected by both limitations. Upon entering the country, refugees can face barriers to accessing health care in general, including limited access to employer-sponsored health insurance coverage and limited resources or language capability to acquire quality health care services. Additional barriers to accessing reproductive health care in particular—social stigma, restrictive state and local legislation, as well as other hurdles—are compounded by refugees’ limited access to health care in general. While refugees often enter the United States as low-income, there has been significant research showing that refugees integrate well over time by entering the labor force, moving up the occupational ladder, and starting businesses after resettlement. Combined with the proven positive economic indicators for women and families that have increased access to reproductive health care, it is crucial that the refugee community have access to these comprehensive, high-quality services to economically thrive in America.

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Coupling Child Care with Pathways to Nontraditional, Higher Paying Work: Bridging Mississippi’s Skills and Wage Gap

By Matt Williams | Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative | June 2017

Mississippi has a “Middle Skills Gap,” or a labor force scenario in which available jobs that require some postsecondary education or technical training outnumber workers who are qualified to fill them. This particularly impacts single moms with dependent children under the age of 18, who tend to be stuck in low-wage jobs and don’t have the training or education to get into work that pays income above poverty level. This policy brief highlights the need to invest in pathways to higher paying work and presents a solution to Mississippi’s “Middle Skills Gap” that promises to place mothers with child care needs onto pathways toward higher-paying jobs by coupling nontraditional workforce training with critical supports.

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