The US is one of only three countries left in the world that do not guarantee paid maternity leave. The others are Papua New Guinea and Oman.
The closest thing we have is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which became law in 1993 and allows qualified employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. Having a baby, or caring for an adopted child, falls under this category.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12% of Americans have access to the paid parental leave, which is considered a benefit by employers. Only 5% of low-wage earners receive paid maternity leave. Paid parental leave policies remain up to individual employers.
Let’s take a look at some important facts about maternity and paternity leave in the US.
1. Women are struggling because of these policies
When women don’t receive paid maternity leave, research has shown that they are more likely to drop out of the workforce, therefore losing income for themselves and their families. About 43% of women with children leave work voluntarily at some point in their careers. A 2014 New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of nonworking adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States showed that 61% of women said family responsibilities were why they weren’t working, compared to 37% of men.
Or, on the other hand, a mother can go back to work too quickly, which could be harmful to her or her baby’s health. That gives her less time to bond with her child, increases her risk of postpartum depression, and also makes breastfeeding — which is incredibly beneficial for the baby’s health — much more difficult. About 25% of women go back to work 10 days after having a baby.
2. Only four states have publicly funded paid maternity leave
California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island now have paid maternity leave laws. California offers new mothers up to six weeks, at 55% of their salary. New Jersey offers six weeks and two-thirds of salary. Rhode Island pays four weeks at 60%.
The Department of Labor recently expanded its program to promote more paid leave, and awarded $500,000 in grants to Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and Montana to implement and assess public funding for paid leave. It gave more money to Rhode Island to evaluate its existing program. The Department of Labor also has a social media campaign for paid leave: #LeadonLeave.
3. FMLA isn’t helping very many people
FMLA only covers 59% of US workers. The 12 weeks of unpaid family leave offered by this program is for women who worked 1,250 hours during a year for a company that employs 50 or more people. Two in five women do not qualify for leave under FMLA,according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. That’s any level job — low-wage or high.
And, there are a high number of workers who are eligible for FMLA leave and don’t take it — 64% of women and 36% of men, according to the Department of Labor. As of the end of March 2015, FMLA now includes same-sex couples, after a long battle over the issue.