The richest country in the world lags behind everyone in paid maternity and medical leave / iStock

Support families with paid maternity and caregiver leave

Public Health Jul 27, 2022

Issue 28 • Week of July 24, 2022

The US is one of only two countries that does not guarantee any paid maternity leave at all even though the World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 14 weeks off earning 2/3 salary. Nearly 30 nations provide paid maternity leave for half of a year. More than 80 countries also offer paid paternity leave... while we treat our pets better than we treat ourselves. Puppies cannot be legally separated from their mothers for 8 weeks in 27 states, but only 11 states and DC have passed paid maternity leave.

Interest was slow to build here since we did not need to repopulate after the devastation that WWII brought elsewhere. Yet support for a paid family and medical leave policy has grown to 8 in 10 voters. Federal momentum on this issue stalled last year after Congress tried to bundle into larger legislation which never passed, but pioneering states offer success stories that should encourage citizens to keep up the pressure. California has had paid family leave since 2004 and 90% of employers there have reported positive or neutral impacts on productivity, profitability, and performance. Plus, the program has been estimated to save employers $89 million per year.

The last federal legislation to address parental and caregiver leave is over 25 years old, which on paper allows staff at companies of 50+ employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without losing their job. This actually ends up being a real option to only 3 in 10 Americans because half of the population who are eligible (about 2/3 of workers) cannot afford to take off that long without a paycheck.

So what are the benefits of paid family leave and what does our path to enact it look like?

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