Report: Lack of Paid Leave is the Real War on Families

The United States is one of the only industrialized countries that fails to support new motherhood in any meaningful way. Take, for example, the lack of guaranteed paid family leave. From a recent report published in In These Times: Most people are aware that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to maternity leave. Perhaps they’ve heard about Sweden, with its drool-inducing 16 months of paid parental leave, or Finland, where, after about 9 months of paid leave, the mother or father can take—or split—additional paid “child care leave” until the child’s third birthday. But most Americans don’t realize quite how out of step we are. It’s not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave… For women, still most often the primary caregivers of young children, this results in higher employment rates, which in turn translates to lower poverty rates among mothers and their children. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave. Women who work in low-income jobs more likely to require physical labor—the kinds of jobs women who just gave birth need a break from in order to heal property–are least likely to have access to paid leave. States such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have paid family leave laws in the books. In Pennsylvania, which earned a “D” on family leave benefits from the National Partnership for Women & Families, several family leave bills have been introduced, but none have made any progress. The Family Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers in companies that employ at least 50 employees. Otherwise, there is no federal protection. It’s little wonder that nearly one in four women surveyed by the authors of the report were forced to go back to work within two weeks of having a child, sometimes with C-section wounds not fully healed. Paid leave is not just a matter of common sense in a society that supposedly values families: Research shows time off can be a matter of life and death for children. While revealing the harsh experiences of low-income working mothers struggling to patch together a little time to heal from giving birth before returning to work, the new report also highlights the fact that many women forced to immediately return to their jobs are also forced to stop breastfeeding because of the difficulty of pumping milk in their workplace. Natasha Long had to go...

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