Paid Maternity Leave in America

Paid Maternity Leave in America

Kendel Ponchock

Very few people in America can afford to take short or long unpaid leave from work, even under the most extreme of circumstances.  Pregnant women are at a particular disadvantage because while people who are sick could still go to work unhealthy, childbirth causes a woman to leave work for weeks on end, caring for themselves and their newborn baby.  The Family and Medical Leave Act in America only promises 12 weeks of unpaid leave in companies that employ at least fifty workers.  Paid maternity leave is proven to benefit mothers, families, and only positively affect employers.

America is one of the few industrialized countries in the world that doesn’t have legislative requirements for paid sick or maternity leave.  Half of the twenty-one most high income countries in the world even offer paid paternity and/or sex-neutral parental leave as well as paid maternity leave.  If America is supposed to be one of the world’s leading countries in terms of industrialization, politics, and technological advancement, why aren’t we offering this to our women?  I certainly would like to think that we could provide the women of our country with at least three months paid maternity leave if we can spend nearly eighteen-billion dollars every year on funding space exploration. Sweden guarantees eleven months paid maternity leave, followed by the statutory right to work no more than thirty hours a week until the child turns eight. Twelve of the European Union nations even provide part-time employment upon return from paid parental leave.  

Mothers deserve the right to take the time off they need to bond with their baby, recover physically, and then return to their jobs feeling confident and ready to work.  In 1997, American pediatricians recommended that new mothers breastfeed for a full year, and research shows that full childbirth recovery takes six months or longer.  Many new mothers experience swelling in their legs and feet, cramps, sadness, and the feeling of being overwhelmed.  They just brought a new life into this world, they do not need the added stress of work and income in the weeks after birth. “Paid maternity leave can reduce the risk of postpartum depression, keeps babies healthy, and encourage mothers to stay in the workplace, yet only 12% of private workers and 5% of low-income workers in the U.S have access to these benefits”.  Infants as young as six weeks are going into child care and spending up to ten hours a day in group settings because their mother can’t afford to take unpaid leave.  Unpaid maternity leave forces low-income mothers to put aside their health and bonding time with their newborn in order to go back to the workplace. A study of sixteen European countries from 1969-1994 found that more generous paid leave reduced the death among infants and young children.

Paid maternity leave benefits the business/employer just as much as it benefits the family.  “After California implemented paid maternity leave, 91% of businesses said the policy had either a positive effect on profitability or no effect at all”.  If this is the case, why aren’t more businesses offering this to their female employees?   When Google increased paid maternity leave from twelve to eighteen weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50%.  If businesses/employers are scared of losing money on this process, let them consider this: in other countries, paid maternity/health leave is funded using payroll taxes and unemployment insurance.  Businesses wouldn’t have to cover the cost of paid maternity leave all on their own. “Best of all, mothers come back to the workplace with new insights”.  Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki -and Google’s first employee to go on maternity leave- says, “I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion, and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently.  It also helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than two-trillion dollars of purchasing power in the United States”.  Employers resist both paid and unpaid leave, yet they overestimate the costs and underestimate the benefits.

In order to better the economy, we must make sure that workers can balance their incomes without sacrificing their families needs.  As of right now, American mothers are promised only three months of unpaid maternity leave, forcing most mothers to return to the workplace within a few weeks after giving birth.  This has to improve. Paid maternity leave is proven to benefit mothers, families, and only positively affect business.