"Axis of Evil" Iran gives new mothers two-thirds pay for 12 weeks. Russia gives new mothers 20 weeks of paid time, Germany gives 14 weeks and India 12 weeks -- all at 100 percent pay. Other countries like the U.K., Canada and Saudi Arabia (yes, Saudi Arabia, where women can't drive) offer time off with partial pay (U.K.-40 weeks at 90 percent pay, Canada-17 weeks at 55 percent pay, Saudi Arabia-10 weeks at 70 percent pay). The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave. The only one.
Mothers and fathers in the U.S. can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off courtesy of the Family Medical Leave Act, but only if they've been at the job for a year or more and work for a company that employs 50 or more people. But who can really afford to do this anyways?
As my wife and I just had our first child we are very fortunate that her current employer has a maternity leave policy of eight weeks paid (two weeks paid for fathers); however, the paid leaves end next month when a new company takes over. My employer does not give mothers one single paid day off for bringing another human into the world. And when I say we're fortunate, we are -- only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and according to the Center for American Progress "these workers are disproportionately well paid, highly educated, and male." And currently only three states offer paid time off (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island).
This needs to change. Mothers (and fathers) need to spend time with their children after they're born -- to care for them, bond with them and feed them. Almost all experts agree on the importance of breastfeeding and its effect on early childhood development and breastfeeding is a difficult thing to pull off when you're out of the house working. So, can things change? Surely they can in a democracy like ours, right?
In June at the White House Summit on Working Families President Obama spoke passionately about the issue, saying, "There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us...and that is not the list you want to be on -- on your lonesome. It's time to change that." Until the release of an effective ad released by the Department of Labor in September there has not been any real action from Obama or his administration. Just a lot of talk. Let's hope this changes and the president makes this a priority. But while Obama's just talking, members of Congress are taking action.
Earlier this year Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced The Family Act bill, which would give parents 12 weeks leave at partial pay ("66 percent of their monthly wages, up to a capped amount"). This would "cover workers [part and full-time]...in all companies, no matter their size [and would be] funded by small employee and employer payroll contributions of two-tenths of one percent each (two cents per $10 in wages), or about $1.50 per week for a typical worker." This would be administered through a fund in the Social Security Administration.
It's not a perfect bill, but it's a start. Let's bring it to the floor for debate and call for a vote. How could it not pass? Every female member of Congress (all 99 of them) would have to vote for it, right? And how could men vote against it and expect to be re-elected (and expect their wives to continue speaking to them)?
A poll conducted by the National Partnership for Women and Families in November 2012 "found that 86 percent of Americans supported leave--including 96 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans." So, hopefully our representatives represent us this time. Remember how 90 percent of Americans supported expanded background checks on gun owners, but the bill died in the Senate on a 54-46 vote last year?
Let's hope we don't see a repeat of that democratic disaster. Let's hope we fix this wrong in this country, catch up with the rest of the developed world and make paid maternity leave a right. We'll all be better off for it.