Now that I’m back to work after maternity leave, I recognize just how special my time at home was.
Working for NBC Universal, I had 16 weeks of maternity leave. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. After all, American moms are offered zero paid maternity leave under federal law. In 2017 alone, only 15 percent of U.S. workers received paid leave from their employers. That has to change. The prospect of having to return to work immediately or even within a couple of weeks of giving birth is inhumane, not just physically but mentally.
The United States is the only advanced industrialized nation without a paid family leave policy. The average paid maternity leave for nearly every other industrialized nation is 18 weeks, with some countries offering up to a year of maternity leave. But, U.S. federal policy has literally not changed since Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993. This policy allows for workers to take up to 12 weeks with unpaid job protection. But, not all employees are eligible and it’s unpaid.
President Trump said at his State of the Union address this year that he wants to offer paid leave for workers who take time off for family or medical issues, but offered little in the way of details. First Daughter Ivanka Trump has also promised to address maternal healthcare and specifically leave, but has yet to do so.
There have been various proposals from legislators, including one from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and another from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Both plans propose 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, sourcing from social security for Rubio and payroll taxes for Gillibrand. However, both plans have gone nowhere on Capitol Hill.
Instead, the responsibility has fallen on state governments. California, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Washington State, New Jersey and the District of Columbia all offer paid family leave. California led the charge back in 2002 with six weeks of partially-paid leave and recently Gov. Newsom has proposed a plan to offer six months. New York gives 10 weeks and Washington and Massachusetts will give 12 weeks starting in 2020 and 2021. Beyond that, some companies are also beginning to institute more supportive policies for parents, from Spotify who offers both mothers and fathers six months paid leave to Dell who offers 26 consecutive weeks paid leave, plus 16 weeks of additional unpaid leave.
With all of this said, it still leaves the average worker (who is not at a progressive organization or in a maternal-friendly state) out of luck. These mothers and fathers are still heading back to work right after the birth of a child.
Having children is not only necessary for our survival as a human race but for social and economic progress. Parents and children need to feel nurtured and protected, and right now that’s not happening, nor is it being made a priority. Maternal health should not be a partisan issue, as research suggests paid maternity leave results in better job performance, women remaining in the workforce, higher household incomes and economic growth. It’s a win-win. Now we just need legislators to get on board.