They always say not to talk about sex, politics or religion. I've already broken the sex rule talking about pregnancy sex on the blog, now I'm about to break the second one! While America is a world leader in a lot of things, maternity leave is not one of them. In fact, the US is the only industrialized nation that does not provide paid maternity leave (many other countries even include paternity leave too, so the proud papa can spend time with his new little one as well). How is it that in a country that is supposed to be all about family values, we put so little money where our mouth is?
Now Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, hope to change that. They have introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, a bill that proposes an insurance plan ran by the Social Security Administration that would provide paid family and sick leave to every employee (whether you work for a private or public company, are full or part time, or self-employed). The idea is that the employer and employee each pay two-tenths of 1 percent of wages (about $1.50 per week for the typical worker), which would fund payments of 66 percent of monthly wages, up to a capped amount for employees on leave, as well as the administrative costs of the program. According to the New York Times, the suggested benefits would range from a $580 monthly minimum up to a max of $4k per month, for a max of 12 weeks within a one-year period.
While I am extremely hopeful that this bill will pass, and I think it should be a no-brainer for a country that says it cares about families and our next generation, I'm also skeptical. You see how difficult it was to pass the Affordable Care Act, and how unpopular it seems to be. What will the fate of this bill be? In my eyes, family leave is clearly a win-win for everyone—it brings a stronger bond to families, and with women (and men) being able to take off time to raise children without worrying about losing their jobs or their promotion capabilities, they will be more dedicated workers, and will have the income to put back into the economy, which in turn helps businesses. Research shows that companies that provide family-friendly policies have less turnover, higher shareholder return, and greater profitability. Other research shows a correlation between short maternity leaves and reduced breastfeeding rates, increased risk of postpartum depression, and higher infant mortality rates. There is also some evidence to suggest that longer paid maternity leaves improve employee retention. When you're a new mom worried about your baby, not getting anywhere near enough sleep, and struggling with adjusting to parenthood, your job performance suffers. By giving women the time they need after having a baby, you're ensuring that when a new mother does return to work, she's able to give her full attention to her job, which benefits her employer. Are you listening, Washington?
It goes without saying that so many women would like to take off time for maternity leave, but can't afford to, or would like to be able to take off more than they're able to. This act could potentially change that—allowing every woman who wants to stay home for three months with her child, the ability to do that (or at least more of a chance to since they'll have 66 percent of their paycheck in hand).
Right now women hold 101 seats—the highest ever—out of the 535 voting members of Congress and the House of Representatives. Only time will tell if men will back the act. But before voting, I hope members of the Congress and House—both Democrats and Republicans—take a good look at who is suffering from not having paid maternity leave in place. The answer is simple: All of us.
TELL US: Do you think all working women should be eligible for paid maternity leave?
Image of mom and baby courtesy of Shutterstock.