We hear a lot about the importance of “family values” nowadays, but U.S.federal law certainly doesn’t recognize that importance when it comes to taking care of a new addition to the family.
The Swedes, for example, get up to 16 months of paid leave after the birth of a newborn; they also receive extra tax credits, as well as access to regulated, subsidized day care facilities that stay open from 6:30 in the morning until 6:30 at night. New parents in Denmark and France benefit from similar arrangements. These programs are available to everybody, regardless of income.
In the U.S., by contrast, federal law guarantees workers just 12 weeks of parental leave without pay, and absolutely no paid leave. And let’s not even get started on the lamentable state of daycare and preschool in the U.S.
The U.S. is the Only Industrialized Nation With No Paid Parental Leave
In fact, the U.S. is the last remaining industrialized nation to offer only unpaid parental leave to workers.
This chart, with data from 38 industrialized countries, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), shows the number of weeks of federally-protected time off, as well as the amount of time off that is paid in full, available to employed new mothers in each country.
Of the 38 countries represented, the U.S. is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. In comparison, Estonia offers about two years of paid leave, and Hungary and Lithuania offer one-and-a-half years or more of fully paid leave. The median amount of fully-paid time off available to a mom for the birth of a child is about five-to-six months.
There’s also protected leave, which allows new parents to be away from their job to care for their baby without fear of losing that job. Along with Mexico, the U.S. offers just 12 weeks, which is the smallest amount of leave protection related to the birth of a child among these 38 countries.
Twenty five of these countries also offer paternity leave. Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Slovenia, Sweden and Germany all offer eight weeks or more of protected paternity leave, and with the exception of Ireland these countries also mandate that a portion of this time off be paid.
Why is the U.S. So Behind the Times?
It doesn’t have to be this way. A survey commissioned in 2012 by a pro-leave group found that respondents supported the idea of parental leave by 63 to 29 percent. At 85-10, Democrats were strongly in favor, with independents at a still quite favorable 54-34, and Republicans evenly split at 47-48.
The states of California, New Jersey and Rhode Island do offer much better paid leave than the rest of the country, and studies suggest that in California paid leave has not been the nightmare that businesses feared. One study, by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, found that 89 percent of participating businesses reported a positive or no noticeable effect on productivity; 91 percent said the same about profitability and performance; 99 percent said the same about morale.
Last month, President Obama took on this issue, announcing his support for paid maternity leave at the federal level. “Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth — now that’s a pretty low bar,” he told the audience at the White House Summit on Working Families. “That, we should be able to take care of.”
American families are changing; there is no one-size-fits-all. More families than ever have mothers as the primary breadwinners, fathers who take care of children, same-sex parents, adopted children, grandparents raising kids, and single parents. Our public policies must embrace this diversity if all families are to flourish.
As Obama said about our current system, it ”puts children at risk, perpetuates gender inequality and does a gross disservice to American families.”
Welcoming a new baby into the family should be a happy, caring time; new parents should not have to be frantic with worry about the future. The U.S. needs to get in line with the rest of the industrialized world.
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