What do Papua New Guinea, Oman and the United States all have in common? All three countries don’t offer federal government funded (or subsidized) paid maternity leave.
It might not seem like a big deal, but Chad, Mali, Mongolia and Cuba offer paid maternity leave, along with 174 other countries. Clearly, the USA is behind the curve on supporting half of its population.
This lack of support for women terrifies me. I want to have a family and, in some countries, that is supported and encouraged. Germany requires that mothers have the option of taking up to 14 weeks of leave with full pay through government and employer funds.
Great Britain takes it even further; women are allowed to take an entire year off and are paid 90 percent of their salaries for the first few months. Many of the 178 countries with paid maternity leave also recognize that fathers are an important part of the picture, and they offer paid paternity leave as well.
Why is it that a country that touts itself as a world power can’t even offer a benefit that is provided by nations that we give aid to? President Barack Obama has finally recognized that we are far behind the rest of the industrialized world in our treatment of new moms, stating recently, “If France can figure this out, we can figure this out.'"
It turns out that some states have already started to address the problem. California, Rhode Island and New Jersey have state-funded plans for new moms. It’s a good start, but it isn’t enough.
I hope to have a family and a career. I don’t expect to have it all, all the time, but until looking into maternity leave, I did expect to at least have some support from my employer and government when transitioning into that part of my life. On one hand, women are still seen in many cultures and social circles as incomplete until they have children.
At the same time, when women do decide to have children, they aren’t supported by their employers and aren’t given the time off necessary to bond with their children and to set up a healthy routine. To make matters worse, their time off from work, if they do decide to leave their job altogether, is seen as a “blank spot” on their resume. As if raising a child is akin to hibernation, with no personal development or growth.
Some companies argue that they cannot afford to offer paid leave. This is ridiculous. Google bolstered its paid leave for new mothers in 2007, increasing it to five months, after realizing that women were leaving the company at twice the rate of men. After making that change, the rate of attrition dropped by 50 percent.
This saves them money. California, one of a handful of states that offers paid maternity leave, will pay for six weeks of wage replacement at 55 percent of a woman’s usual weekly earnings.
In a survey, the Center for Economic and Policy research found that 60 percent of employers in California said they saved money because female employees took advantage of the government subsidized option rather than using employer-aid sick leave or vacation time.
In Obama’s White House, staff members have access to up to six weeks of paid leave for maternity, illness or family emergency. Clearly, he knows that building a strong economy means caring for our women in the workforce, but existing legislation isn’t cutting it.
The "landmark" Family and Medical Leave Act only ensures 12 weeks of unpaid leave and only applies to companies with 50 or more employees, excluding 40 percent of America’s workforce -- including me.
There are some good things in the works. Obama proposed a $5 million “State Paid Leave Fund” that would help states cover the costs of starting and implementing paid leave programs.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Family Act would provide paid family and medical leave through an employer and employee-funded trust housed within Social Security.
Unfortunately, our political system is so messed up that these programs will most likely not come into fruition any time in the near future, as they are Democrat-backed and we have a Republican-led House of Representatives. I find it infuriating that my ability to have children and a career without putting my financial future at risk is in the hands of a bunch of politicians who are dead set on disagreeing.
While we ignore half of our population’s needs, other countries warn their citizens about the complications, dangers and inconveniences of having children in the USA.
The United States is the only high-income nation in the world not to have paid maternity leave, and I am terrified of having children here.
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