No Federal Paid Maternity Leave – why doesn’t everyone know this?

This morning I caught a few minutes of the Today Show as I was getting ready for work. For once, it was actually an interesting and helpful segment for working women, this time it was on maternity leave. It never fails to amaze me that people don’t know just how backwards our country is on this subject – but it seems most people just don’t focus on it until it personally impacts them.

So let’s get started with maternity leave 101. The United States is one of 4 countries that has no law guaranteeing paid maternity leave. If you are wondering in who’s company do we keep – the answer is: Swaziland (any clue where Swaziland is?), Liberia and Papa New Guinea. Oh, and the grand old United States. Those are the four countries that do not offer women paid time off for maternity leave.

And yet, people still believe the conservatives that have been running this country into the ground – care so much about family values?

But I digress.

So – if you didn’t know that before – then shame on you – and now you know it. It is imperative that KT readers are informed.

What I’ve also noticed is that once people recover from the shock of learning that, then they learn that under FMLA, women who work for companies with 50 or more employees, can leave their job for 12 weeks and return to their job or one similar. This is NOT PAID TIME –  it is 12 weeks. But again – the caveat is that this law only applies to companies with 50+ employees.

OK – so Meredith covered this in the segment this morning with a reporter who’s story is in the most recent Cookie Mag. (anyone read that mag? I do on occasion but feel like it’s really meant for those who shop only at Neimans and Saks and I’m not sure it really applies to my lifestyle most days). Though I was outraged that Meredith, who has been a reporter for how many years, didn’t even know that we don’t offer paid maternity leave in this country – I recovered when I learned something really surprising.

Apparently only 8% of women receive paid maternity leave in this country. 8%. WOW – that is really disturbing. It was disturbing enough to think about the fact that it’s not a federal law – but I orbit a world where pretty much all the moms I know have received some form of paid leave. Was it overly generous? Only in one instance.

Was it more like 6 weeks off paid and then saved vacation cobbled together to eek out 12 weeks paid home with a new baby and a slowly recovering body and mind?

Yes – but still – it was paid time – and let’s not call it ‘paid time off’ – because could that be anymore misleading? I wasn’t “off” when I was on maternity leave. In fact, I’d never been more on call in my life.

Again, I digress.

So basically – it’s just another sad example of class distinctions in this country. The 8% are women of privilege – right? Women who have college degrees, probably Masters degrees, professional jobs, disposable income and nannies. We all need the time home with the baby and to recover physically – whether we went to college or not – and it’s just a sad state of affairs that we are bedfellows with under developed, poor countries – on an issue that involves the health of women and the bond between mother and child.

The legislators and President should all have a red face over this one.

The little that I’ve learned from the Cookie Mag piece (http://www.cookiemag.com/homefront/2008/02/maternityleave) and MomsRising is that, like many other legislative issues, this particular issue is being taken up at the state level and changes at the state level are our best shot at forcing change on the federal level. Right now California is the bellwether state, mandating some form of paid disability leave.  Massachusetts, Washington state, New Jersey and New York have proposed bills:

http://www.progressivestates.org/content/369/maternity-and-paternity-leave

I frankly, don’t know where the presidential candidates stand on this issue. Check back later this week and I promise to give you an overview. The one thing I do know is that Senator Dodd has been a long-time advocate of a federal policy on maternity leave – so it’s too bad he didn’t last longer in the presidential race as it might have given this issue more of a platform.

11 Responses to No Federal Paid Maternity Leave – why doesn’t everyone know this?
  1. jules
    February 4, 2008 | 6:03 pm

    I think another caveat is that FMLA also only applies to people who have been with their current employer for at least 6 months.

    It’s outrageous.

  2. Annie
    February 5, 2008 | 4:31 pm

    My company doesn’t offer maternity leave you get 3 months no pay time off. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I’m moving to Europe thats all I have to say.

  3. GopherMPH
    February 6, 2008 | 5:23 am

    It is like many things in life – people don’t notice until it directly impacts them. FMLA is great – if you don’t happen to have anything else in your life go wrong. Where I was working, I could take all 12 weeks off (obviously), go onto “short term disability leave”, which meant the first 6 weeks was unpaid, but the 2nd half was paid leave.

    There are too many women who don’t even take that time off, fearing for their job security.

    How about the days after your 12 weeks: In the Twin Cities here, I’m paying 10,000 PER child per year for day-care 4 days per week. I’m in grad school at the University of Minnesota (read: expensive) – daycare is more than my tuition.

    This is one of the last bastions where I am perfectly willing to agree that being a mother means getting screwed by The Man. The whole system of time-off, vacation, maternity leave, family medical leave, short-term disability, long-term disability , etc. ad nauseum …. who can keep track of it? It’s no wonder people are clueless. Since there’s no unified (or even vaguely transparent) system of ‘time off’ in the country, the Proletariat is kept ignorant and uncomplaining, since they don’t realize how much they have or don’t have. Like comfy social neighbors in Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, and Liberia.

  4. Chelsea
    May 7, 2008 | 2:26 pm

    I was shocked when I discovered that my employer, a multi-BILLION dollar corporation doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. I knew about the lack of a law…but REALLY? My company NET profits last year were upwards of 1.6 billion. With over 3200 employees in the country with well over 60% being women of child-bearing age you can see why they’d rather hold on to the money themselves! My over-priced health insurance won’t provide any relief either. We are going to have to add my unborn child to my husbands because if we put the baby on mine I might as well quit and stay home…my whole check would be gone. When I asked about maternity leave I got a lovely EMAIL about how to apply for short term disability. My girlfriend just came back from leave and said it equated to roughly 2 weeks pay. She had complications and was out for over 12 weeks. It’s ridiculous and unfair. I was going to go back to school and get my masters online this summer. Looks like I’d be better spent using my free time finding a part time job to help save money!!!

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