Thanks for the Day; Now How About Some Family Leave Pay?

Alyssa Petrella
USW Communications Assistant

Designating 24 hours as International Women’s Day is great and all, yes. The thought definitely counts. But, frankly, what women in the United States really could use is paid family leave. That would be great for America’s children as well.

Under the terms of the federal law called the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), about 59 percent of women workers qualify to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after delivering or adopting a child. But few women can actually afford unpaid leave. And they shouldn’t have to.

The United States is the only industrialized country to hold out on this. European nations require paid maternity and paternity leave. Virtually every other developed country in the world does.

In fact, three U.S. states do – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island all offer paid maternity leave, while 18 states are considering doing the same – and yet, somehow, those states have not fallen off the map into some horrible abyss. They mandate that workers be paid at least 50 percent of their salary for 4 weeks or more depending on the state.

The three states that provide paid maternity leave do it with a simple system that is commonly used to pay for other benefits. Each state offers a form of insurance to women who want paid maternity leave that are paid for with deposits pulled directly out of every paycheck.

A small number of corporations – about 12 percent – offer workers some kind of paid leave.  That’s a baby step forward. American women and their infants need a giant step forward.

Studies show that bonding at home with newborns is important—not just for the mother, but for both parents. In addition, studies show that women who don’t have enough time with their newborns are twice as likely to suffer post-partum depression. There are health implications for the babies as well because mothers who return to work early are less able to nurse their babies for the recommended six months.

And those women who rush back to work often pay for it with ill-health and financial struggles.

Some women, particularly those with low-income jobs, end up falling behind on bills or taking out loans they can barely pay back.

Politicians are always kissing babies and right-wingers are always preaching about being pro-life. If they really loved babies and truly valued life, they would pass a law requiring paid family leave. 

Put your money where your mouth is, Congress.

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