I’m 33. Many people in my age group are having kids and are realizing just how bad family leave policies are in the United States.
Me? I’ve known it my entire professional career.
- The US offers just 12 weeks of job protected, unpaid leave for many, but not all, mothers
- Out of 185 countries, the U.S. is one of three that offers no mandated paid maternity leave
- 70+ countries even offer paid paternity leave for fathers
- Three states offer paid leave and a joint study with CEPR, UCLA, Rutgers, and CUNY showed that for 90 percent of businesses in California, the law had a net positive or neutral impact on their profitability
The thing that is shocking to most people our age is that our mothers didn’t even have job protected unpaid leave. The Family Medical Leave Act only became law in 1993. In fact, depending on when you were born, your mother could’ve been denied or released from employment just because she was pregnant with you. That protection didn’t pass until 1978.
I’ve heard all of the arguments against paid leave. I don’t buy that the U.S. is in the right on this issue, along with Suriname and Papua New Guinea, against 182 other countries. It’s a global economy and it’s easier to be mobile than in any other time in history. At some point, it’s a competitive issue that’s likely to hurt the U.S. in the long term.
Obviously, I would’ve loved to have paid leave as would’ve my wife. She had always planned to go back to work after having our child and it wasn’t going to be a long time.
We had it better than almost everyone in our country, though. I had three full weeks of paid paternity leave. Plus, I work from home and spent the first year seeing her on demand just steps away. My wife spent 11 weeks at home getting almost her full paycheck and banking on some savings, along with a job that has her working four days a week most of the year.
We could’ve gone longer with our leaves but we chose not to. Most people don’t have that choice. Most people don’t have the advantage of substantial dual income, a parent working from home, and a wonderful nanny. People choosing between finding care for children who are just days out of the hospital are closer to the norm than our situation.
The fact is, it’s too late for people in my current generation: We’re not getting paid leave for our friends who are having kids tomorrow or next week. Just like it was too late for our mothers to get the job protection that almost everyone universally agrees is a good thing today. Maybe individual companies will continue to adopt more family friendly policies primarily catering to people who already can afford to take leave. I don’t see the tide turning that fast on any national legislative level.
So this isn’t about me or my friends anymore. It’s about our country. It’s about our daughters, sons, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. It’s about creating an environment that’s more friendly to women leaders in their 20s and 30s.
It’s about doing what’s right for people where 8–12 weeks of paid leave is the difference between taking hardly any time off for their pregnancy versus taking every single second of paid leave to soak up that time with their kid. Maybe they work in retail or hospitality. Maybe they work in an office or on a construction site. We want them back to work, sure. But according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 16 percent of mothers taking one to four weeks of time off and 33 percent taking no formal time away from work at all.
It’s an indictment on us all and it’s time to change this.
Of course, paid leave will be a pain in the ass to deal with it from the employer’s perspective. I know administering these programs come with administrative costs, the possibility of abuse, and real legal risk. I also know that paid leave schemes will likely cost companies hard dollars and cents. These are important issues which are worth acknowledging but aren’t insurmountable.
But the cost and hassle is worth it. And hopefully people in my generation will fight for it the same way our mothers and grandmothers fought for employment rights that protect pregnancy and parental leave today.