Paid maternity leave is a popular idea. A Pew study found that 82% of Americans support mandatory paid leave for mothers after the birth or adoption of a child. About 75% of Americans would support a federal program offering 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. A total of 54% would still support the program even if it came with a $200 tax hike.
Paid maternity leave has broad bipartisan support. Though traditionally seen as a priority only for the left, in recent legislative sessions two pairs of Republicans have introduced two different pieces of legislation for paid leave. The CRADLE Act, introduced by Senators Joni Ernst and Mike Lee, and the New Parents Act, introduced by former GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, both allow for parents’ paid leave out of their social security. In September, the latter pair reintroduced this proposal. Even Donald Trump spoke in favor of paid family leave at the 2018 State of the Union address. During the Trump administration, Ivanka Trump met with over 60 members of Congress to further the cause of paid maternity leave.
Recently, the idea of Paid Family Leave (which includes maternity leave) has been making headlines due to it being proposed in H.R. 5376, or the Build Back Better Act. The New York Times reports that Paid Family Leave is “a cornerstone of President Biden’s economic agenda.” The original bill proposed 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents but has been cut down to four weeks, with a compensation of at least ⅔ of wages, rising to 80% for the lowest paid Americans. This will be paid for by tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations. This proposal is in danger of being scaled back or left out as Democrats try to push the bill through Congress. Moderate holdouts could shrink the bill to just a few weeks. As of now, the particulars of the Build Back Better Act are being debated, and it is unclear whether or how much leave will be in the final bill.
The White House website provides a compelling argument for paid leave giving equity to our economy. According to fact sheets on whitehouse.gov, early ¼ of mothers return to work within 2 weeks of giving birth. In addition, nearly 4 out of 5 private sector workers have no access to paid leave at all. 95% of the lowest wage workers — which are mostly women, and more specifically, women of color — do not have any paid leave. Paid parental leave also helps with the cost of raising children. The pandemic has worsened the gender disparity in the workforce. Millions of workers, especially women, have been pushed out of their jobs due to COVID. Paid leave would also improve child health and well-being. For new parents, it would ensure that they had time to bond with their child.
The White House also points out that paid leave is an investment in the strength of the American economy. Workers lose $22.5 billion in wages each year due to the lack of paid leave. The lack of paid leave contributes to a $64 million loss in wages and economic activity per year. Paid parental leave has been shown to keep mothers in the workforce, as well as increase labor participation and economic growth. Whitehouse.gov states that part of the reason the United States has fallen behind competitors in female labor participation is the lack of family-friendly policies. Paid leave supports employers by improving employee retention and reducing turnover costs.
We will have to wait and see how the battle for paid leave turns out in the United States. As an expectant mother, I am holding my breath to see how much time I will be able to afford not working full time so I can care for my baby. As a pro-life advocate, I am hoping paid leave will make it easier for parents to choose life. Someday, I hope to see the United States embrace the World Health Organization’s recommendation for a full 16 weeks of maternity leave. This would help the economy, businesses, and families. For now, mothers like me will play the game of piecing together time to spend helping our babies thrive.