While many countries provide paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child, the United States does not provide any type of social safety net, lagging behind 180 countries that do, including third-world countries such as Afghanistan. In fact, there’s only a handful of countries who do not offer paid maternity leave, among them six Pacific island nations, Papua New Guinea, Surinam, and the United States of America.
The United States passed the Family Leave Act in 1993, which entitles new parents to unpaid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. According to Quartz, there are a few corporations that offer paid parental leave as a benefit, but only about 12 percent of companies give that as a benefit. Most working people who have a child choose to supplement their weeks off with sick or vacation leave if they have any. If they don’t, many people choose to go back to work earlier than the social norm of six weeks, which can have a negative impact on both the parents and the child.
Many countries have had paid leave acts in place since the late 1800s including Germany and Switzerland. After the industrial revolution and then World War II, when many women went to work, some European countries passed laws that mandated women stay home with their infants after they were born. While the vast majority of U.S. proponents would not be in agreement with a mandate, many parental rights movements are hoping that the Family Act that has been introduced to Congress will pass in some form. Each presidential candidate has expressed thoughts and intentions on this issue that has largely remained politically untouched for years. The reasons for this are complex; many people feel that having a child is a personal choice and should not be funded through government money. But proponents of paid leave say that everybody wins when a mother and father get off to a good start and have a firm family foundation — work is more productive, children are healthier, and parents suffer less stress and sickness as well.
Vicki Shabo, vice president for the National Partnership for Women and families, is optimistic that Hillary Clinton will be elected. Clinton has said that she supports paid leave for 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a child, while Donald Trump has said that he supports a paid six-week maternity leave by the federal government. Shabo says that her advocacy group doesn’t take a position on how paid leave will be funded, as Trump has suggested a form of unemployment compensation and Hillary has said she will add no additional taxes to those making less than $250,000 a year. Shabo is just hopeful for a federal policy to emerge.
“We could have a perfect storm of a president that prioritizes this issue, law makers who are hearing more and more about it, and the demonstration that it works well on the state level and provides economics benefits.”
Different models are being looked at, and some states have initiated their own paid parental leave policies. Although the act would ensure that parents were able to take a set amount of paid time off from work after the birth or adoption of a child, the current bill may need some tweaking, as there is currently a significant drawback: The Family Act being proposed does not address any type of legal protection for retaliation from employers, which is especially significant to unskilled laborers. This means that people could be fired for myriad reasons, or no reason, because the employer was disgruntled about someone taking paid leave to care for a new child.
Even though the Act is in its infancy, it’s likely to become a major talking point once the new president is elected.
Readers, what are your thoughts on paid parental leave? How should it be funded?
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