Paid leave policies help eliminate the “caregiver penalties” many women face for being the primary caregivers in their families, Deborah Pascal, senior program analyst in the Midwest regional office of the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor, said during a recent webinar hosted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Generally, women remain less likely to participate in the labor force than fathers and men, because women are more likely than men to provide family care even when they are working full-time, she said. But the cost of child care also keeps some women out of the workforce.

A 10% increase in median childcare prices since 2016 is associated with a 1% percent decrease in maternal employment rates, Pascal said, noting that childcare is a significant expense for families with children in day care, representing 85% to 19.3% of family income per child.

“On average, women’s labor force participation and work hours decreased after having children,” she said. That absence, in turn, reduces their lifetime earnings potential by 15%.

That’s where paid leave comes in, Pascal said, noting that paid leave is a key priority area for the Women’s Bureau, which she said was established in 1920 and is one of the oldest agencies at the Labor Department.

“Protected leave through the Family and Medical leave Act has changed lives. Because of FMLA, people can keep their jobs and, just as crucially, their health insurance when they need to care for themselves and their families,” she said.

Low-wage workers are significantly less likely to have access to paid leave, but “[w]hen leaves are paid, it doesn’t just promote equity in theory, it creates it in practice,” she said.

The Women’s Bureau has added a section entitled “It’s Time to Hear about Paid Leave” to its website. Resources include an interactive map with information on the current status  of state paid leave and medical leave laws across the country as well as links to the websites of state agencies where workers can learn more about their rights and benefits.