Paid-Parental Leave in the U.S. – How Is This Not a Thing?

Virtually every country in the world has a paid-parental leave policy. The "greatest country on earth" does not. Hmm.

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US Maternity Leave [image source: huffingtonpost.com], crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
US Maternity Leave [image source: huffingtonpost.com]

Within an hour of birth a giraffe calf is standing, stumbling, and crashing around the savannah like a drunken dad at the fair getting in the dodgem cars. However, despite the calf’s precocious command of its legs, it will stay with its mother for over a year. Human babies on the other hand, are utterly hopeless. If a human baby is on its feet in any less than 10 months it will probably be an Olympian. Babies are so fragile and susceptible that they can suffer instant death just from sleeping wrong.[1]

Comparing giraffe calves and human babies may seem a bit absurd, and it is. What is more absurd, however, is that the U.S. is almost the only country in the world where parents are not able to properly look after their infant children, because there is basically no paid-parental leave program. The only thing the U.S. is more alone in not doing is geography.

Virtually every country in the world has a paid-parental leave policy. For some the employer finances the leave, in others it’s publically funded. Some governments even supply cash benefits to new parents. The International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations (UN) affiliate, suggests at least 14 weeks of paid leave. Australia provides 18 weeks. Canada, Norway, and Sweden provide at least 26 weeks of paid-leave. Presumably that’s because it takes the child some time to learn how to skate home from hospital.

Actually, 26 weeks isn’t even the most. South Korea, Japan, Czech Republic, Cuba, and Mongolia are among many countries that offer mothers a year or more of paid-leave. A year! If you don’t know anything about Mongolia — this is what a Mongolian satisfied with the knowledge they have a year of paid-parental leave looks like.

Asher Svidensky, Mongolian Eagle Hunter [image source: alloutdoor.com], crowd ink, crowdink, crowdink.com, crowdink.com.au
Asher Svidensky, Mongolian Eagle Hunter [image source: alloutdoor.com]
She’s hunting game with a giant eagle! While we catch a Pidgey on Pokemon GO in the parking lot of an Applebee’s.

Russia provides women with 140 days of paid maternity leave. Even Russia takes paid-parental leave seriously!

The U.S. does have some pockets of rationality. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island provide paid-family leave for at least four weeks, paying over half the employee’s income. New York will have a similar law in 2018. San Francisco requires all businesses to fund their employee’s leave.

Rhode Island State Representative Newberry told CBS News last year that publicly funded paid-leave programs should be private because they effectively impose a tax on people who don’t receive any benefit from them. Newberry is making the common mistake of opposers to the idea – that of being entirely wrong. Not on the point of whether it should be public or private, but that paid-parental leave doesn’t benefit everybody.

California has had 12 weeks of paid family leave for over a decade. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, mothers who took such leave were 6% more likely to be working a year later than those who did not. Furthermore, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers reported in 2014 that more than 90% of Californian employers affected by the initiative saw either a positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover, or morale.

In addition to benefits for employers, the public health sector also benefits. Parents spending more time with their newborns tend to have healthier babies and are healthier themselves. The cost of parental leave pales in comparison to the cost of its absence. President Obama signed an executive order last year providing all public sector workers 6 weeks of paid-leave.
American women currently win the bread in 40% of American housholds. Having realised the need to attract female talent, some companies have started providing paid-leave. However, a 2014 Labor Department study found that only about 12% of private sector workers receive paid family leave. The lack of support often pushes women out of the workforce, or to rush back in prematurely. This only adds to the already notable gender pay gap.

Jody Heymann of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health says “Countries can either work with half their workforce or compete with their full workforce, which requires paid maternity leave.” And furthermore, “Most countries have recognized that this is critical to the success of their economy.”

There is actually some positive legislation currently stalled in Congress. That’s not a surprise though; Congress is about as productive as a stoned sloth. It’s called the Family Act – a Democratic proposal sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D – N.Y). The bill seeks to provide universal paid-parental leave up to two-thirds of their monthly income for 12 weeks. Here’s an idea. If every congressman gave up 1 of their 33 weeks of paid-leave, maybe the rest of us could have it?

Despite this being one of the most ridiculous elections in history. Both candidates have realised the importance of this issue and thrown a policy at it. Both Clinton and Trump have noticed the polls showing that the majority of Americans would support such a benefit. In a survey by the Associated Press 55% of Republicans supported paid-parental leave, compared to 67% overall and 82% of Democrats.

Pretty much any policy would better the current 12 weeks of unpaid leave (for companies with 50 or more workers). Republican Nominee Donald Trump proposed a tax deduction for child care. However, it was quickly pointed out by economists and Captain Obvious that such a policy would only help those that would spend the most on child care, the rich. Ivanka Trump advertised her father’s support for paid-leave at the RNC. This was during her spiel about positive policies for the rights of working mothers. Unsurprisingly, Ivanka Trump’s clothing line doesn’t offer workers any paid maternity leave.

Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed a similar policy to the Family Act currently stagnant in Congress. However, instead of funding it with combined employee and employer taxes, she wants to tax corporations and the wealthy. According to her tax return that means she’d be taxing herself. While in Trump’s policy, as a rich man he would receive a bigger deduction –- interesting.

When it comes down to it though, paid-parental leave is basic. Everybody has it, like healthcare, affordable education, common sense gun laws and – wait a second?

Ok we’re going to have to slow it down a bit, something different this time. It’s basic, everybody has it, for the same reason everybody has sanitation departments. Humans produce things that we can’t just leave on the floor as we walk back to our desks. You can watch the Olympics and shout “USA! No. 1!” as much as you want. But in many arenas, “USA!” is not even on the court.

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[1] Sudden Instant Death Syndrome can occur if babes are placed on their bellies or sides to sleep rather than their backs. ‘SIDS’ is a big issue. On the 15th of August a study was published in Pediatrics determined that between 14% and 33% of babies were not placed on their backs to sleep.