Doctoral student works on large-scale study of the New York State Paid Family Leave Act

A man and a woman are holding a baby swaddled in a blanket and are smiling at the baby.

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 23, 2022) – A large observational study evaluating New York Paid Family Leave was recently published in the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice by Dr. Barbara Dennison, Dr. Trang Nguyen, and doctoral student Butho Ncube, all of whom are with the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. The study is the first to evaluate the utilization of the program, which allows most employed New Yorkers to take up to twelve weeks of paid, protected time off to bond with a newborn or care for a family member with a serious health condition.

Ncube, who worked on the project as part of his doctoral practicum, explains why evaluating related health outcomes is so important: “Policymakers and the public need to know whether enacted policies achieve their intended goals. In essence, this evaluation work contributes to sound public governance. We are not only taxpayers but also recipients of policies such as the Paid Family Leave Act.”

New York state is the fourth state to enact paid family leave legislation, and today is one of eleven states to offer its residents paid family leave (PFL). While the Family and Medical Leave Act does offer protected time off, it does not offer pay, and not all employees are eligible for it. Ncube says, “it was hypothesized that PFL might be used as a public health strategy to improve population health and reduce disparities. But for a program to work, people first have to use it. So, our study looked at rates of utilization along with demographics.”

Although the primary goal was to find out who was using these benefits and why, Ncube says that some of their findings were surprising. For example, Ncube did not expect to see so many men taking advantage of the program when PFL has typically focused on women. Other findings reinforced earlier work on social determinants of health, “including access to healthcare, education, poverty, housing conditions, social support, availability of resources, and race or ethnicity on health outcomes in the United States,” Ncube explains. “For instance, the research showed that low-income individuals and people of color were more likely to take longer leaves and use the maximum 8 weeks of paid family leave. This might be explained by the fact that these individuals tend to work in low-paying industries such as the service industry that do not offer other employer-sponsored paid family leave.”

Although Ncube is no longer a part of ongoing program evaluation of PFL, he continues to participate in epidemiologic surveillance. Today he is working with the New York State Department of Health Public Health Information Group and the Bureau of Emergency Medical and Trauma Services to analyze data on the opioid epidemic in New York state.

When asked how he feels about his future in public health, Ncube says, “I believe the sky is the limit.”