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.

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