Paid parental leave benefits us all

Located off the north coast of Australia, Papua New Guinea, an impoverished, mostly illiterate nation of 7.2 million people divided among isolated, primitive tribes who speak 700 different languages, is about as distant geographically, politically, culturally and economically from the United States as any place on Earth.

Oman, an Islamic sultanate off the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula ruled by Sharia law and considered among the world’s most repressive, misogynistic governments, also is far removed from U.S. shores and sensibilities.

The United States, Papua New Guinea and Oman do have one point in common, though: They are the world’s only countries without paid maternity leave.

An entire generation has passed since this nation adopted legislation that requires large employers to provide full-time employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off after giving birth to or adopting a baby, but few new parents are eligible for or can afford to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 12 percent of Americans have access to this benefit, and only 5 percent of low-wage earners wind up receiving paid maternity leave.

For nearly a year Congress has been dragging its feet on proposals that would provide U.S. workers benefits guaranteed to those in nearly all the rest of the world.

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives in January has languished in committee, while companion legislation proposed in the Senate in September also remains stalled. The time for action is long overdue.

Providing new parents with time off makes sense both economically and sociologically.

Numerous studies have underscored the benefit of parents spending time with newborns, and researchers also have found that individual states with parental leave laws allow women to continue helping provide for their families and advancing their careers. New mothers in states without such laws often must quit their jobs and later find it difficult to re-enter the work force.

To date only four states – California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – have publicly funded paid maternity leave. At the end of 2014, President Obama provided federal employees with six weeks of paid leave when they become parents – a generous offer but still considerably less than the year of leave provided in Denmark, five months in Italy and four months in France. Even Afghanistan offers 13 weeks.

In the meantime, many companies are offering generous parental-leave benefits.

Netflix announced a new policy last week that will provide its employees with up to a year of paid parental leave following childbirth; Microsoft, Google, Apple and Yahoo also provide employees who become parents with extensive time off.

This is both good and bad for U.S. workers. It’s certainly welcomed by those employed by a tech giant, but for the majority in lower-paying jobs such policies only widen the growing gap between the haves- and the have-nots.

The only fair, effective way to administer parental leave is to make it available to all workers.

With a presidential election next year we urge political parties to make passage of a more progressive parental-leave policy an integral part of their platforms – not just because half the electorate are women, but because all Americans should embrace better laws regardless of their gender.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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