What do Papua New Guinea, Oman and the United States have in common? They are the only countries left in the world that do not guarantee paid parental leave.
Becoming a parent is a big decision. Standing in support of paid parental leave should not be.
According to the National Compensation Survey (NCS), a study conducted annually by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that in 2016, only 14 percent of workers had access to paid family leave.
The NCS defines paid family leave as leave granted to an employee to care for a family member (including a newborn or adopted child, a sick child or a sick adult relative) in addition to any sick leave, vacation, personal leave or short-term disability leave that might be available. The term includes paid maternity and paternity leave.
The closest thing we have to paid parental leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which will protect your job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. The law does not require that parents be paid for that time off; it just requires that your job be waiting for you when you return and says that you can’t be penalized for taking the time off.
FMLA is not helping very many people, though. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, FMLA only covers about 59 percent of U.S. workers; and two in five women do not qualify for leave under FMLA.
By sheer comparison to other countries, the United States’ policies on parental leave are cause for concern.
Women specifically are struggling because of these policies. Research by Vanderbilt University has shown that women are more likely to leave the workforce for this reason, therefore losing income for themselves and their families.
A 2014 New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of non-working adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States showed that 61 percent of women said family responsibilities were why they weren’t working.
On the other hand, because some women may not have access to paid parental leave, they are forced to go back to work earlier than the suggested 12 weeks. Going back to work too early, however, can be extremely harmful to a woman or her baby’s health.
One specific study in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics found that “women who took longer than 12 weeks of maternity leave reported fewer depressive symptoms.”
Children are also affected by parental leave. Paid parental leave has been found to decrease infant mortality rate by as much as 10 percent.
Parental leave is extremely important. Not only does it keep families economically self-sufficient, but it also works to maintain the health of parents and children.
Parental leave is not a vacation, it is a necessity, and it’s important that we start treating it as such.