Dear US: Get on Board with Paid Maternity Leave!

I recently read that Chicago is finally considering paid maternity leave for its city employees. While logically I’m aware that I should know better, I’m still shocked. How could any city or state in this country — which seems so hell bent on making women become mothers — not guarantee paid leave?

It is extremely contradictory that a country run by politicians who apparently have a vested interest in controlling women’s bodies and perpetuating motherhood has no interest in providing institutional support to mothers. Of course, this isn’t unique to maternity leave (see: unequal pay for women, maternal profiling & employment discrimination, inadequate enforcement of child support, lack of daycare, etc. etc. etc.), but it is an integral link in a long, systemic chain of bullshit.

As the Huffington Post reports, the best our country offers to its fertile female citizens is the 1993 Family & Medical Leave Act,

which enables workers with new children or seriously ill family members to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. By excluding companies with fewer than 50 employees, it covers only about half the work force, and many who are covered cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

This is particularly devastating for low-income workers who need paid maternity leave the most. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report,

Only 11 percent of civilian workers (and 3 percent of the lowest-income workers) have paid family leave benefits. Roughly two-thirds of civilian workers have some paid sick leave, but only about a fifth of low-income workers do.  Several studies have found that the number of employers voluntarily offering paid family leave is declining.

It goes on to explain the consequences of this phenomenon:

Parents said that having scarce or no paid leave contributed to delaying babies’ immunizations, postpartum depression and other health problems, and caused mothers to give up breastfeeding early. Many who took unpaid leave went into debt and some were forced to seek public assistance. Some women said employer bias against working mothers derailed their careers… Moreover,  research on the  impact of paid maternity leave on health has found that paid and sufficiently long leaves are associated with increased breastfeeding, lower infant mortality, higher rates of immunizations and health visits for babies, and lower risk of postpartum depression.

If you want families to flourish, institutional support for parents is absolutely essential. Without it, families suffer. Businesses lobby against paid leave, claiming it places a burden on employers, but what about the burden it places on employees? Aside from the rights implications in denying employees paid leave, it logically follows that stressed and underpaid employees are less likely to be productive anyways, which will ultimately affect an employer’s bottom line.

Currently, only New Jersey and California guarantee paid maternity leave. When is the rest of the country going to get on board?

Comments

  1. As long as the policy does not consider gender. Fathers and mothers should/must get equal amounts of leave or it’s a violation of equal work for equal pay.

    • I agree 100% – every parent deserves paid leave. Period.

      • Right. And even childless people should be given the same amount of paid leave periodically (perhaps as a sabbatical), otherwise it’s not equal work for equal pay.

  2. Hi Eric -
    I completely agree — every parent, regardless of gender, should have paid leave. To clarify, I opted to stress the maternal side of paid leave because traditionally, women — for biological and, frankly, societal reasons — tend to be the primary caretakers of infants. But you certainly raise a very valid point! Thank you for that.

    • Thank you, Maureen. I tell feminists all the time, that they must demand equal parental leave for the mother and father, otherwise it defeats the equal work for equal pay argument.