Our Flawed Maternity Leave Laws

Emma Relyea - Teen Aspect - September 3rd, 2022
(Washington Post, 2021)
 

In a country that prides itself on its human rights, we sure do have a way of treating women. Not only did we not allow women to vote until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, but now our Supreme Court has stripped away our federal right to an abortion. (1)


Our nation also prides itself on taking care of its constituents. And while forced pregnancies are becoming legal, our government fails to enhance already lacking maternity leave laws. In fact, the United States is among the worst when it comes to maternity leave.


Human Rights Watch calls paid maternity leave “practically universal” (2) - making an exception for the United States, of course.


A study performed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development compared the maternity leave guarantees in 41 of the world’s more developed nations. The most found was 86 weeks of paid leave in Estonia. Around the median is Korea with 40 weeks of paid maternity leave. And dead last, with 0 weeks, was the United States. (3)


Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ensures that companies with 50 or more employees provide their workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. Not only does this leave new mothers with no payment during this time, those 12 weeks are also used up by sick days and caring for immediate family members with serious health conditions. (4)


Although some companies make up for the lack of care, only 21% of US workers have access to paid maternity leave. (5) Meaning that mothers either go back to work 12 weeks postpartum and leave their 12 week old child in the care of someone else, risk losing their job, or stop working all together.


In reality, retaining new mothers in the workforce is becoming increasingly difficult. Between recovering from birth, preparing for motherhood, bonding with their child, and covering the costs that come with such, working mothers have some of the most challenging jobs in the world. And when they receive no support, they leave. (6) Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to the workforce. Whether it’s inherent misogyny or a lack of equal pay, there’s no argument that women have to fight for the bare minimum - including paid maternity leave.


This isn’t a partisan issue, either. In fact, 96% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans believe that women should have some sort of paid maternity leave. (7) Yet, the United States continues to fail to provide for their new moms.


The reason why we still don’t have a crucial aspect of a working woman’s life in place comes down to the American Dream and our hard-work mentality: if women can’t work hard enough to endure the beginnings of motherhood, they aren’t fit to work at all. (8)


Care for workers has been an imperative issue in this recent election season. Unions, Universal Basic Income, and the right to walk-out are on the forefront of every politician’s mind.


So, why haven’t we seen an effort to include paid maternity leave in our fight for social justice? Because of old values and the tendency to overwork? It’s time we change our opinion on what it means to be a working mother. Not only because women are already working two jobs (in their workplace and at home), but because one of the most developed nations in the world needs to start treating half of its population with dignity - and paid maternity leave.


References


1 Harmon, S. (2022, July 6). U.S. Supreme Court takes away the constitutional right to abortion. Center for Reproductive Rights. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://reproductiverights.org/supreme-court-takes-away-right-to-abortion/

2 Failing its families. Human Rights Watch. (2019, July 2). Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/02/23/failing-its-families/lack-paid-leave-and-work-family-supports-us

3 Livingston, G., & Thomas, D. (2020, August 7). Among 41 countries, only U.S. lacks paid parental leave. Pew Research Center. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/16/u-s-lacks-mandated-paid-parental-leave/

4 Family and medical leave (FMLA). United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla

5 BBC. (n.d.). Why doesn't the US have mandated paid maternity leave? BBC Worklife. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210624-why-doesnt-the-us-have-mandated-paid-maternity-leave

6 Maternity leave isn't enough to retain New Moms. Harvard Business Review. (2021, September 13). Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2020/11/maternity-leave-isnt-enough-to-retain-new-moms

7 Gillett, R. (2017, October 1). Most people in america want paid parental leave - here's the real reason the US is the only developed nation that doesn't have it. Business Insider. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.businessinsider.com/why-america-doesnt-have-paid-leave-2017-9


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