Let’s say you’re settled in a great career, you have an amazing significant other, and you two have decided to start a family. Things keep getting better when you have the ultrasound appointment and find out you’re having a little boy!
You’re now overjoyed that you can begin looking at all of the toy trucks and little boy toys with your friends. The months pass on and the morning sickness as well. You begin to look like you actually have a tiny human growing inside of you, and then you deliver a beautiful, healthy baby. The only thing you have left to face is the issue of maternity leave from that “great” career you have; the only issue is that you aren’t guaranteed to be paid. How will you ever manage to support yourself, your spouse, and a new baby with only one working parent?
Now, before jumping into the current state of the maternity leave situation, I will first touch on what maternity leave is and the summary of history behind the U.S. policies. Maternity leave is a temporary period of absence from employment granted to expectant or new mothers during the months immediately before and after childbirth. During the past few decades, with women entering the workforce at an increasing rate, the topic of unpaid leave has become a more relevant and prevalent discussion. In the U.S., the Family Medical Leave Act FMLA is what includes the provision mandating 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for mothers of newborn or newly adopted children.
In the earlier years, before women were increasingly working outside of the home, it wasn’t much of a concern that there be a designated maternity leave. By 1969, five states had enacted Temporary Disability Insurance laws protecting employees from income loss in the occurrence of a temporary medical disability, including pregnancy. Under this legislation, new mothers were granted leave corresponding to the benefits that other employees at their place of employment received for temporary illness or disability. The fatal flaw with the federal legislation behind the FMLA was that in order for employees to receive maternity leave they must work in a firm of at least 50 employees, maintain employment with the same business for 12 months and have accumulated at least 1,250 working hours over those 12 months. However, the issue is this criteria fails to encompass a large portion of people.
There are a lot of important impacts tethered to U.S. maternity leave. Health related topics such as child development and maternal health are included, along with social aspects, access to equal leave, for example. Mothers who are granted leave are able to spend extra time caring and monitoring the health and well-being of their children. They are also able to more easily start, or continue, breast-feeding if they are allotted more time to be at home, which is a major benefit to both mom and baby. Another benefit is allowing for the time towards educational and cognitive development. When a parent is able to spend one on one time with the child it is far more beneficial than the divided attention often present in child care centers. The only issue with the aforementioned positive points is that under the current FMLA system, approximately 40% of U.S. workers are ineligible for leave.
It has been stated by President Obama, during his State of the Union address, that the U.S. is the only advanced economy that doesn’t mandate paid sick or maternity leave for its workers. Most American workers are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows workers up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for family members, but that leave is unpaid.
Not only does the U.S. lack a mandated paid leave for women, it is also one of the nine Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)countries that have no leave policies in place for fathers. This is a growing issue, and in comparison to other countries the U.S. isn’t even close to the same playing field. With the increase in women’s employment at careers outside of the home, as well as the increasing cost of childbirth, adoption, and raising a child, it is absolutely necessary to provide compensated maternity leave for at least the mother.