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The Shocking Reality of Maternity Leave in the US: 1 in 4 Women Take Only 2 Weeks Off

Two weeks. 14 days. That's the entire length of maternity leave that most American workers take when their child is born. And, it seems some of us are shocked by that fact. After all, we're all protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, right? Since 1993, the FMLA has ensured 12 work weeks off in a 12-month period, but that doesn't sync up with the reality that nearly 25 percent of women are forced to return to work after two weeks.

Two weeks. 14 days. That’s the entire length of maternity leave that most American workers take when their child is born. And, it seems some of us are shocked by that fact. After all, we’re all protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, right? Since 1993, the FMLA has ensured 12 work weeks off in a 12-month period, but that doesn’t sync up with the reality that nearly 25 percent of women are forced to return to work after two weeks.

hospital

(Photo Credit: ParentingUpstream/Pixabay)

Despite all the hubbub about new instances of companies offering paid leave to some workers, there’s really no paid leave required for all. NPR covered the family leave debacle once again this morning, highlighting the fact that even those strides forward (the new parental leave from Netflix, for instance) further demonstrate how far we really still have to go.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

It’s shocking, yes, as the Washington Post proclaims, but, it’s not really surprising. We’ve been talking about the realities of parenting, work, and leave benefits for decades. We know that the lack of paid parental leave in the U.S. is embarrassing, when compared with any other developed country. And, we know we need something, anything, but we’re coming across ingrained road-blocks, which collude to make it impossible for a female employee to have any kind of reasonable leave expectation for maternity.

baby

(Photo Credit: ParentingUpstream/Pixabay)

Who’s Got the Money?

While Netflix and Adobe are making headlines with their new offers to extend paid leave for parents, the reality is that only 13 percent of U.S. workers have paid family leave. So, for the vast majority of workers, any FMLA leave they take is unpaid, or covered by any vacation and sick time that has been accrued.

Even unpaid, you might not be eligible to take the FMLA leave – depending on how long you’ve worked for your employer (at least 12 months) and also whether your company is covered (i.e., a private company with 50-plus employees, or a school or a public agency). Your choice, then, is simple. You can quit your job, try to stitch together some semblance of partial leave via sick time and vacation, or beg your boss (or HR manager) for additional leave, likely unpaid.

And, here’s another reality. Lower-paid, less well-educated women have it the worst; for example, Netflix is only extending the paid leave to white-collar employees. Not only are those female workers least likely to have paid vacation and sick time, but they are also not likely to benefit from paid leave.

It’s Complicated

After all the realities of whether you’re eligible or not, there’s also the fact that some pregnancies and births inevitably end in a medical situation – nearly one-in-six pregnant women have complications of some kind. Although those complications don’t usually lead to the death of the woman in the U.S., that might mean bed rest for the mother, preemie care for the infant, and a whole laundry list of other delays, medical visits, and worries. That’s all on top of the birth.

Extending maternity leave is important for all workers, and not just as a recruiting strategy for the elite. It’s really a matter of financial survival for many female workers.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you a pregnant worker, who would desperately like to take more time off when your baby comes, but you simply can’t afford to? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Esther Lombardi
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Mon
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Mon

Yeah, it’s pure evil, but what more would you expect from the country that spends more on war than education?

Bren
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Bren

I live in US and work for a startup. I just had a baby and took 5 weeks leave – all of it was my vacation time. While I have the flexibility to work from home, it would be really nice to have some kind of paid parental leave. It is embarrassing to know that US is the only developed country to not have a paid parental leave plan and that many developing countries have a much better maternity leave policy.

snap211
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snap211

When I had my daughter back in 1981 I was employed at a hospital & they provided 6 weeks maternity leave. I suppose it was the fact that I worked in a hospital that I had the luxury of a longer maternity leave. Kinda sad that here we are in 2015 & we still haven’t made much improvements in this area. I can only guess it’s cuz men make the laws & women are NOT a priority & never have been despite the fact that this country likes to tout itself as being ‘family oriented’. Nothing could be further from… Read more »

Asha
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Asha

I am in Canada and we have 37 weeks maternity leave and 15 weeks parental leave (to be taken by either parent). This is paid leave (approx 55% of income) from the unemployment insurance plan funded by the Gov’t and companies.

Paul
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Paul

That is incorrect regarding funding. The unemployment insurance plan, maternity and parental leave plans in Canada are 100 percent funded by worker payroll deductions and matching employer payroll contributions. The federal government does not fund any of this, nor do the provincial governments. In Quebec, there is also an extended parental leave (some additional weeks) that is also funded by workers and employers.

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