Written by Andrew Hermann
Edited by Queenie Lin and Annika Lilja
Recently, in the United States, the issue of parental leave has gained significant attention, as approximately 80% of Americans currently lack access. This glaring lack of accessibility has profound implications on families, children, and America as a whole. Currently, only nine states and Washington D.C. provide a 12-week paid maternity leave for employed mothers, thus, expressing the major disparity across the nation. In addition, the United States stands alone as the only industrialized country without paid maternity leave. A mere 21% of workers can take advantage of paid maternity leave, leaving the majority without crucial financial support during a pivotal life stage. While these statistics express the clear ineptitude of the United States to provide sufficient parental leave, one might ask why this matters. The consequences of inadequate parental leave have far reaching consequences. As parents are forced to take unpaid leave, they often plunge into major debt. Beyond financial strain, there are adverse health effects, including delayed immunization for the baby and an increased risk of postpartum depression for the mother. The limited time parents spend with their newborns not only impacts bonding but contributes to broader public health challenges.
A stark comparison with European Union members further uncovers the significant gap in parental leave accessibility. While parental leave amongst EU members stands at a 14-week minimum and mothers are compensated at least at the national sick pay level, the average parental leave in the United States is four weeks. This extremely short leave serves as a major contributor to issues like paternal depression, a psychological disorder derived from parental depression that can have lasting effects on familial dynamics. Research indicates that paid parental leave can play a crucial role in reducing infant mortality by 10%. The pressing question is clear: what can the United States do right now to enhance the currently insufficient accessibility to parental leave?
To answer that question, it is essential to look at the restrictions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Currently, the FMLA offers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year but is riddled with limitations at the moment. Eligibility criteria includes a minimum of 1,250 hours worked at a company and working at a company with at least 50 employees. Many mothers lose access to any leave solely due to not meeting these narrow requirements. Moreover, pregnancy complications draw from the 12 weeks of familial and medical leave, further limiting its efficacy. Thus, in order to help enhance the accessibility to paid parental leave, an essential first step should be to loosen these requirements. Most Americans support enhancing parental leave as a staggering 82% of Americans express the desire for federal paid primary parental leave. Despite this, currently, only 11 states offer paid family and medical leave.
The inadequacies of the current parental leave system in the United States are extremely pressing. As a nation that upholds the epitome of equal opportunity for all, the United States grapples with the absence of guaranteed paid primary parental leave. It is crucial for policymakers to collaborate to implement these bipartisan reforms. The well-being of new families, the health of newborns, and the guarantee of basic human dignity all underscore the importance of this issue.
Maternity and Paternity Leave in the EU - European Parliament,
www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2023/739346/EPRS_ATA(2023)739346_EN.pdf. Accessed 16 Jan. 2024.
“What Data Does the BLS Publish on Family Leave?” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
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Williamson, Molly Weston. “The State of Paid Family and Medical Leave in the U.S. in 2023.” Center for American Progress, 4 Oct. 2023,