By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most Americans support paid family and medical leave and think employers, rather than the government, should cover the costs, but they are divided over whether companies should be legally required to provide it, according to a report released on Thursday.
Across ages and political parties, Americans questioned by the Pew Research Center favored paid leave for new parents, sick workers and employees caring for a family member with an illness.
But a large majority of Republicans said employers should be able to decide whether to pay for the benefits, while Democrats want it to be mandated.
Americans also did not rank expanding paid leave as a top priority for President Donald Trump and Congress this year, placing it below terrorism, jobs and immigration.
"It is not as simple as 'more people support family, medical leave,'" said Juliana Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew and a co-author of the report.
"There are a lot of complexities when it comes to what Americans say should be done in terms of who should provide it and how it should be delivered," she added in an interview.
When people were asked about specific proposals, there was more support for providing tax incentives for companies to make it easier to provide the benefit than for the allocation of government funds for it, Horowitz said.
The report's findings are based on two national online surveys of nearly 8,000 adults, including 6,000 people who recently took, or wanted to take, family or medical leave. One poll was done from Nov. 17 to Dec. 1, 2016 and the other from Nov. 17 to Dec. 14.
The poll of workers who took leave showed large disparities in income levels. Thirty percent of workers making less than $30,000 a year said they were unable to take leave when they needed or wanted to, compared with 14 percent with higher incomes.
Seventy-four percent of people earning $75,000 or more who took leave received some pay, as opposed to 37 percent of leave takers in the lowest income brackets.
Lower-income workers were also more likely to say their supervisors were not supportive of them taking time off.
"Half of people earning less than $30,000 who took leave in the past two years and didn't receive full pay said they went on public assistance or took on debt while not working," Horowitz said.
The report also showed that personal medical leave and taking time off to care for someone else were more common than maternity or paternal leave.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Dan Grebler)