It Sucks: 5 Facts About US Maternity Leave Millennials Need To Know

by Virginia Isaad

If you have a baby in the United States, the upside is you have job security; the downside is you have a very small chance of getting paid leave.

The US is the only developed nation that doesn't offer paid maternity leave, which means Sweden and Estonia (among others) are more advanced on this front than the nation that sent a man to walk on the moon.

Estonia offers about two years of paid leave; Hungary and Lithuania offer one-and-a-half years or more of fully paid leave, according to Pew Research.

In Finland, moms get a maternity care package, with reusable diapers and clothing, among other items.

The ladies of Gen-Y want children, but they want a career first, and with that comes the issue of money and if/when to return to work.

Whether you're posting ultrasound photos on Instagram, or you have a mental list of baby names for when that time comes, it's important to know what you're in for.

1. Maternity leave is the equivalent of your middle school summer vacation (12 weeks UNPAID).

In a 2009 study of 21 high-income countries, the US ranked 20th in length of protected maternity leave. In comparison, Sweden offers 480 days of paid leave.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows moms to take up to 12 weeks off with no pay, but with job protection, to which most moms say, “FML.”

FMLA passed in 1993 and is as old as some Millennials; nothing has changed to improve maternity leave since around the year you came into this world.

Obama recently allowed for federal workers to receive paid leave, but nothing has passed to cover paid leave on a national level ... at least not yet.

Plus, two in five American women of childbearing age do not qualify for job-protected leave under the FMLA, according to a Center for Economic and Policy Research report.

Why not?

2. The privilege of *not* getting paid comes with some caveats.

In order to receive maternity leave, women must work in a firm of 50 or more employees for at least a year, with at least 1,250 working hours.

This covers only about 59 percent of workers.

Only five states have publicly-funded paid maternity leave or earned sick days: California, Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

3. Government officials could learn a thing or two from tech nerds.

Tech companies have a great track record when it comes to providing moms with paid time off, especially when women are in charge. (Hi, Marissa Mayer!)

Facebook offers four months of paid leave along with a $4,000 baby bonus, and it’s the only company to offer equal time for ALL parents, from birth mothers to adoptive parents.

Twitter provides 20 weeks of paid maternity leave, as well as a “Mommy Mentor” program and “Dads on Leave” roundtables.

Apple provides paid family leave for 14 weeks after delivery and four weeks before, while Google gives biological mothers 18 weeks paid and new parents get 12 weeks paid.

They are the exceptions, though, since only 12 percent of US employees at private companies receive paid leave.

4. Baby = pay fluctuations and it ain’t always pretty.

A University of Massachusetts study found a salary decrease of 4 percent per child for women -- that’s even larger for low-income workers (but doesn’t affect women in the top 10 percent).

Fatherhood means a 6 percent increase, especially among men who already make a lot of money.

Also, it turns out that if you’re one of the top 10 percent of wage earners, your company isn’t required to keep your job open if they can show your absence would cause substantial economic harm for them.

On the upside, according to a recent NY Times article, women who returned from their leave worked 15 to 20 percent more hours, and their hourly wages increased by roughly 5 percent.

So, it really just depends on the company you work for.

Paid maternity leave is beneficial for companies, as well. Paid leave, financed through payroll taxes, has shown to have a positive effect (or none at all) for companies.

In California, almost 100 percent of employers say it positively affected the company if it had any effect at all. This goes out to all the naysayers who lobby against paid maternity leave on the basis that it’s bad for business.

5. Paternity leave is getting more traction, but there's still room for improvement.

We’re still fighting for equal pay, so I guess it’s no surprise that paid time off doesn’t come equally, either.

Unless they work for a private company that offers some paid time off, dads aren’t getting any besides what FMLA offers (only if they qualify).

According to Fatherly’s list of the top 50 companies for paternity leave, Google is the best with seven weeks paid leave for dads and full benefits and stock vesting.

Number 50 is Humana, one of the largest health insurance companies in the US, which began offering paid paternity leave for four weeks this month.

This may be good, but it’s not paternity-leave-in-Sweden good.

Starting in 2016, the Swedish government will require all new dads to take an extra month off for a total of three months, receiving 80 percent of their salary.