The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) just celebrated 25 years of existence. It is wonderful that it exists, but it was always meant as a first step to create a better work/life balance for parents. It hasn’t progressed in 25 years and women continue to be punished for having children. These are the same children who grow up to be future taxpayers and run the world. These are the women who are continuing the existence of humankind. Yet America doesn’t seem to care about these people after birth. It is perplexing to say the least.
The FMLA serves to protect a mother’s job for 12 weeks, but it is unpaid and only applies if you have been employed by that job for a year. The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that about 40 percent of workers aren’t covered at all, and many who are covered, cannot afford to take that much time off unpaid. In certain cases, women can be fired for having a baby. The FMLA not only doesn’t cover all women, it omits fathers and stipulates that a company needs to have more than 50 employees for it to apply. In other words, it is completely discriminatory.
Eight years ago, I was lucky enough to get six paid weeks of leave from the company I worked for after I had my twin babies. I ended up taking 12 weeks in total, with six weeks at a reduced pay thanks to FMLA protections using my accrued paid sick and vacation days. I still had to return to work when my babies were 12 weeks old, which felt far too soon. I know some mothers who didn’t have that luxury and returned to work days after birth.
The state of America’s maternity leave is pathetic and it is lagging behind the rest of the civilized world. The places that don’t have paid leave for new parents are Suriname, New Guinea, some South Pacific Island nations, and the United States. How can we be on this short list?
Paid parental leave is offered in the richest countries. Finland offers up to three years of paid leave for new parents. That’s a beautiful thing because it takes the child up until a good daycare age and then allows parents to ease back into work. Canadians get one year, the United Kingdom offers up to 39 weeks, and Norwegians get up to 91 weeks. America doesn’t show its support for working parents at all. A mere 15 percent of workers in the U.S. have paid family leave through their employers. Note that women with children under 18 make up 70.5 percent of the work force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s numbers for 2016. There are a lot of us and we are underserved.
Trump did propose a six week paid leave for mothers, but specifics are scant and six weeks is laughable compared to what can and should be available for parents who want to or need to take more time.
Now, Republicans are looking to redirect existing social security trust fund resources for paid leave. This is problematic. Women’s wages over a lifetime trail men’s (because of the pay gap and wage inequality). And because women are the primary caregivers, this harms women the most. We should not have to borrow against our social security benefits to get us through maternity leave.
Debra L. Ness, the President of the National Partnership for Women & Families issued this statement:
“Proposals that rely on scarce resources and threaten longstanding programs like unemployment insurance or existing Social Security funds, without providing new revenue, will do more harm than good. So will proposals that create false incentives for employers to offer paid leave, fail to provide meaningful wage replacement or exclude the key reasons people need leave – such as for their own serious health issues or those of a loved one. We must reject proposals that threaten our progress. Otherwise, we will squander this very important opportunity to strengthen our families, businesses, and economy.”
Ness supports the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which Congress has been attempting to push through for years. FAMILY Act has be reintroduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and supported by 27 additional senators. It creates an insurance fund for paid leave for all parents and it’s only going to cost employees less than $1.50 a week per employee. That’s worth every penny. This allows parents to take the time off needed to nurture their family, and return to work. This also helps keep our workforce strong and our economy healthy. And paid leave means healthier babies, healthier mothers and fathers, and the best start. This could be a lead in to reform.
Something has to change. This isn’t a Trump created problem, either -- it’s a problem that hasn’t been fixed or properly addressed in 25 years. There is an urgency here -- America needs to start caring about women and families now.
These statistics should outrage all of us no matter who we voted for. It is a bipartisan issue and we should be looking for solutions and better options to give women and families the best start we can. There are millions of working mothers dealing with the obstacles of affordable child care, balancing budgets to pay bills on time, and trying to get home to see their child’s first step. We worry about what to do if our children fall sick, or if we’ll lose our health insurance. America should be at the forefront of work/life balance. And yet we are failing at it miserably. We have one of the worst systems of support in place, and more noise must be made otherwise we’ll be looking at another 25 years of the status quo. I mean, if a company can go through the time and extensive research to make lady-friendly Doritos, surely someone can fix paid maternity leave for America's mothers, right?