There are but a handful of countries in the world that do not provide working mothers with any guaranteed paid maternity leave; the United States is one of them.
As President Obama pointed out this week, America is the only one of the world’s industrialized nations that does not provide any kind of paid leave for new mothers and fathers.
Obama said he would like to change that, and he is right. A country that truly values families should do better.
Almost every other country in the world has recognized the importance of supporting new mothers when their children are born, and it’s somewhat incredible that the U.S. has not.
Although some states mandate paid family leave for new parents, or those who must care for sick loved ones, Illinois does not. In a common example, some new mothers must decide exactly how long they can afford to go without their income in order to stay home to care for their newborn child.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides people up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year, in which they are guaranteed to have their job – or a comparable job – back, but makes no provision for families’ living expenses.
As if simply adjusting to the disruption in one’s sleep schedule and trying to recover from childbirth wasn’t enough to worry about.
The 12-week leave allowance also is among the shortest in the world – some countries, such as Canada and Great Britain offer a full year of job protection, some of it with pay.
Many employers have decided on their own to offer paid family leave, others do not. And even the protections of FMLA do not apply to workers at firms with fewer than 50 employees.
We should do better for our country’s new parents. Short-term support for growing families is a public good, and paid maternity leave shouldn’t be a luxury available only to those lucky enough to work for an employer that can afford to offer it.
Making America’s workplaces more family friendly is important. However, there should also be some acknowledgment of basic facts. For example, a woman who actually gives birth to a child should be eligible for a longer period of paid leave than a father or adoptive parent.
Those are important jobs, too, but nothing quite like what a new mother does.
A newborn child is a big change and a big adjustment for a family. It is also a time when a mother’s care is most urgently needed.
It should not also be a time of financial turmoil.