America Still Lags Behind the World in Maternity Leave

According to the World Policy Forum, the United States of America, Suriname, and Papua New Guinea have something in common: they are the only nations that do not require employers to provide paid maternity leave.

(Photo Credit: World Policy Forum)

In compiling their data, the World Policy Forum included paid parental leave, which is taken by mothers and/or fathers, as well as paid maternity leave, which is taken by new mothers.

The International Labor Organization states that women should be guaranteed at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. In the United States, the federal government currently requires 12 unpaid weeks. In other words, if you don't make enough money to save up for 12 weeks worth of expenses, you can't stay home with your new baby.

In addition, the World Policy Forum reminds us that World Health Organization recommends at least six months of breastfeeding. Staying home with a new baby facilitates this practice.

Eleven percent of workers nationwide have access to paid maternity leave. That number rises to 16 percent, still a dismal number, when we isolate state and local government workers. Technically, federal workers get none, but they may save up their sick and vacation days to take as "maternity leave." This means they likely come to work while sick and contagious in order to save up their paid time off.

Country by Country

Our neighbors to the north, Canada, with their single-payer system, guarantee 50 weeks of paid maternity leave to new parents. That is almost a year. Sweden guarantees 60 paid weeks, and Finland 164. That is more than two full years. The Russian Federation gives new parents 78 weeks of paid leave.

Americans might not be ready to guarantee working families one or two years off, but we ought to do better than 12 weeks, and then only if the family can afford it.

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