Supporting Parents in the Workplace and the Home: Part 1

I am very fortunate to work at a place with generally progressive programs for work/life balance.  However, ‘progressive’ in the United States is horribly behind most industrialized countries and miles away from ideal.  Often our arguments center around Stay-at-home vs. Work-outside-the-home Moms which dilutes the real problem of supporting mothers, fathers, and families as a society.  Here are some areas on my wish list for supporting mothers.

Maternity Leave –  This is the first in my list and the first priority.  The US has zero respect for parenting as evidenced by the lack of maternity leave.  All the additional programs and concessions are pale olive branches disguising this very real problem. 

    • The United States of America shares the glorious distinction, with Swaziland, of being the only two countries that have no legislated, paid maternity leave. Seriously, think about it…pick a country.  Somalia?  14 weeks at 50% pay.  Azerbaijan? 126 days at 100% pay.  Myanmar? 12 weeks 66.7% pay.  Slovenia? 12 months at 100% pay.  The list goes on.  Pick a poor country, a rich country, a socialist country, a monarchy, a dictatorship, a democracy…they all have paid maternity leave.
    • We have unpaid Family Medical Leave.  But only if your company has more than 50 employees within 75 miles.  And only if you aren’t in the top 10% of employees by compensation.  And you and your husband have to share the 12 weeks if you work for the same company.  Pitiful.
    • California, and a few other states, are steering the way toward paid maternity leave.  In California, employees can receive 55% of their weekly wages for up to 6 weeks per year (the maximum is $959 per week in 2009).  It is a start.
    • Some other facts about parental leave:
    • Having a baby is a leading cause of “poverty spells” in the U.S. — when income dips below what’s needed for basic living expenses.
    • In the U.S., 49% of mothers cobble together paid leave following childbirth by using sick days, vacation days, disability leave, and maternity leave.
    • 51% of new mothers lack any paid leave — so some take unpaid leave, some quit, some even lose their jobs.
    • Paid family leave has been shown to reduce infant mortality by as much as 20% (and the U.S. ranks a low 37th of all countries in infant mortality).

    What Can I do?