A few years ago, I realized that I’ve long held two conflicting typically conservative beliefs: America is the greatest country in the world, and America allows the legalized killing of unborn children. At the same time, my progressive Maryland roots told me that America was still somehow a very sexist country. I knew before I got my first paycheck that I would have to work harder than my male counterparts to succeed in my career.
If you’re already overwhelmed by this display of semi-patriotic righteous indignation, so am I. It’s confusing being a progressive pro-life American woman. But when you look at the sad state of the U.S.’ maternity leave, most of my beliefs really aren’t so shocking. I don’t quite know how to tally up what constitutes the “greatest country in the world”, and I’m not really sure it would do much good anyways. But I do know if the U.S. wants to live up to that slogan, we have some serious work to do regarding women, children, and families. When you look at our appalling maternity leave regulations, it makes sense that we are one of the seven countries in the world that allow abortion after 20 weeks. We’re putting the needs of companies and short-term profit first, and families second. To live up to our patriotic claims, we must change these fundamental flaws.
Just How Bad Is It?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s pretty bad. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave through a federal law. Most countries that guarantee paid maternity leave provide nearly 100% of the pay the mother would get if she were working. In Bulgaria, for example, mothers get 59 weeks of maternity leave at 90% of their pay. An additional year can be split between both parents. In Chile, mothers get 18 weeks at 100% pay, with an additional 12 weeks that can also be split between parents. Even in Iraq, new mothers get 100% pay for 14 weeks.
But We Have FMLA, Right?
A partial solution to this issue is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires companies with more than 50 employees within 75 miles to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave to their employees to care for themselves or their family members following an event such as the birth of a child. However, the NIH reports that 3.5 million people who need leave do not take it, with 78% not taking leave because of finances. Household incomes at or below the poverty line, as well as people of Hispanic ethnicity, were less likely to take leave. According to the NIH, women in the U.S. are less likely to take maternity leave because they are afraid it will weaken their advancement and status with their employer. Women are also afraid of the negative effects on their wages if they are seen as a temporary employee.
The NIH reports that wage replacement is crucial for effective maternity leave, especially for families living paycheck to paycheck. Therefore, the NIH report concludes that the FMLA is unable to meet the needs of all American families. The NIH suggests that the FMLA expand its benefits to all workers and allow a gradual return to work. The FMLA also needs to provide wage replacement to workers.
Does It Really Matter?
If developing countries and those criticized for egregious human rights abuses can provide paid parental leave, surely the U.S. can as well. In my next post, I will address exactly why paid parental leave is so important. I will discuss what is best for mothers, babies, and families, and why it is crucial that the United States follows the guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization. Stay tuned!