The Fight For Better Maternity Leave

Among the World's Worst

Women in the United States are penalized every day simply for having babies. This country lags far behind other nations in providing parents with both paid and unpaid leave for childbirth and adoption.

The U. S. is one of only four countries worldwide (the others are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho) that don't offer guaranteed paid leave to new mothers; women in 163 other countries, including Rwanda and Afghanistan, have the right to paid leave for the birth of a child. In 45 countries, fathers either receive paid parental leave from their employer or have a right to paid parental leave (with income coming from government funds); our country isn't one of them.

But doesn't the U.S.'s FMLA mean everyone can take time off? No. Less than half (46.5 percent) of private-sector employees are both covered by and eligible for FMLA leave. And even though women make up nearly half the workforce, the number of employers offering paid leave is dropping, due to the economic climate and the high cost of health-care benefits. In 2008, 16 percent of employers provided full pay during the postpartum period, down from 27 percent in 1998.

You might assume that you can use your sick days to get paid during your leave, or receive disability pay. Not necessarily. Just four U.S. states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Washington, and Wisconsin) have laws guaranteeing the use of accrued sick days or other leave to care for a new child. Only five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island), plus Puerto Rico, have disability-insurance programs providing some pay for employees who are temporarily disabled for non-work-related reasons, including pregnancy and childbirth.

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