Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Maternity leave policies in the U.S. leave women and families behind

The average length of job-protected (and mostly paid) maternity leave is 14 months in "advanced industrialized nations," according to an article in the June 2008* issue of the Monthly Labor Review, a publication of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study compared the member nations that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States is a member, as are countries including France, Australia, Canada, England and Japan.

The paper reports that "the share of mothers working by 9 months was notably higher in the United States than in peer industrialized countries," but that in the member nations "most women take the full amount of leave to which they are entitled
and then return to their prebirth jobs."

American women have no guarantee of maternity leave, much less paid leave.

Employed American women who are lucky enough to have staff jobs cobble together sick days, short-term disability leave, personal days, vacation days and unpaid leaves in order to care for their newborns. Women who are self-employed (by choice or necessity) return to work soon after giving birth, or they attempt to scale back their work for a short while. Some women leave the workforce entirely.

I was lucky when my first child was born. I worked for Time Inc. magazines (then a division of Time Warner) and received eight weeks of sick/disability leave due to having had a c-section. (Moms who gave birth vaginally got six weeks.) I then tacked on a few weeks of unused vacation. But because my employer allowed new parents (female and male) to take up to one year of unpaid, job-protected leave after the birth or adoption of a child, I extended my time out of the office until my son's first birthday. I was greatly appreciative that my husband and I could afford my not being paid for several months, and that I had both a corporate employer and an immediate boss who supported my taking the time to care for our new child.

I don't know what the practical solution is for establishing a maternity leave guarantee in this country, but it's interesting (and disturbing) that American families don't receive the logistical support families do in other industrialized nations. (By the way, a couple of years ago Canada increased it's guarantee of paid maternity leave from six months to a full year post-birth.) How did you manage your maternity leave from work, or not?

Graphic from Clker.com / * Yes, June 2008 is correct. I'm behind in my reading.


joanie t. said...

No maternity leave for me with my second pregnancy. I worked part-time (25 hours a week) and wasn't eligible for benefits, even sick days. I wound up having to quit work in my eigth month due to preterm labor. My husband works, so we still had his income but its been tough. If I could have had maternity leave, even if it wasn't fully paid, I would have gone back to work, but they didn't even hold my job. I don't know what the solution is either. Its not fair for a employer to have to pay for a woman who keeps leaving to have babies, but women need something. People often say that if men had babies things would be different!

Stephanie said...

I was fortunate to have an employer (school district) that allowed me to take one year of unpaid leave with a guarantee that I would get my same job back. I thought I'd be ready to return after one year home, but I've opted to stay home an additional year. This time the district gives me another year of unpaid leave, but without a guarantee of a job. I will be offered an open position before they interview outside the district. I feel so lucky to be in such a supportive school district. Others are not so family-friendly. Although, I wish that America was up-to-speed with what is typical for other industrialized nations. Check out Norway's policy! It is amazing.


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