Implement a Federal Paid Family Leave Policy
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The United States of America is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer paid parental leave.
Incredible isn’t it?
For a country that prides itself on “family values,” the United States does a remarkably terrible job of supporting mothers and families at an incredibly vulnerable time when they need help the most.
In this country, only 12% of women are granted any kind of paid leave by their employers.
And horrifyingly, 1 in 4 women are financially forced to go back to work within just 2 weeks of delivery, before their baby can even support his/her head properly.
American mothers are routinely forced to leave their babies long before either of them are physically or emotionally ready to be separated.
It takes a woman approximately 40 weeks to grow a baby, during which time she experiences extreme fatigue, nausea, headaches, cramping, muscle soreness, heartburn, shortness of breath, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids – just to name a few. And she gets through this all the while working full time, often at a physically demanding and exhausting job. And that does not even touch on the incredible physical act that is childbirth itself. Women need maternity leave to not only care for their babies, but also to recover. To recover from both the physiological and psychological aspects that accompany the postpartum period, which include depression, lactation issues including mastitis, fatigue, and pain.
Studies routinely show that parental leave can have a significant positive effect on the health of babies and mothers.
In fact, paid parental leave can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10%. It also has been shown to increase the likelihood of infant doctor visits and vaccinations. And it increases the rate and duration of breastfeeding, which has a number of benefits for baby, including decreased rates of infection and SIDS, and lower risk for asthma and obesity later in life.
And there are benefits for mothers too. Paid maternity leave leads to lower rates of depression and improvement in overall mental health in the months and years that follow.
But this is not just a moral and health-based argument. There are economic benefits to paid leave as well.
Researchers have routinely indicated that paid leave benefits women economically because they tend to go back to work and stay with the same employer, which means their wages grow at a faster rate afterward.
Paid maternity leave is also associated with better job performance and retention among mothers, increased family incomes, and increased economic growth.
These might be some of the reasons that literally every other industrialized country in the world offers working mothers paid maternity leave – some offering more than a full year of paid leave.
It’s unfortunate to me that in this country, we look at women having children as a personal decision, which should only be made if one can handle the financial burden. Especially when 40% of all Americans are having a hard time earning enough to pay for rent, food, healthcare, and transportation costs, and 62% of Americans do not fall into the category of middle class. The ability to have a family, like so many things in this country, should not and must not be available only to the wealthy or those who have the means to do so.
Rather than an individual or personal decision, other countries view having children as a need to collectively grow the next generation, from which all individuals stand to benefit.
I’m one of the lucky ones. While I do not get any paid maternity leave, I do get 6 weeks partially paid short-term disability and have enough savings to get me through another 6 weeks. But really? Should we be in a situation, as the richest country in the world, where this is considered lucky? Should I be in routine conversations with working women who literally do not know how they are going to afford to take even 1-2 months off from work after the birth of their child? And should the United States of America continue to stay in the company of countries like Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland, as every other industrialized country in the world does more to support their working mothers and families?
The answer has to be no. We must do better.
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