Carol Evans Writes on Mandated Paid Maternity Leave
In honor of The White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, DC on June 23rd, MAKERS is dedicating each day this week to a specific theme that will be covered at the summit. Today we cover child care for working families and have a special article from media entrepreneur, author, and leader in women's media Carol Evans.
Mandated Paid Maternity Leave: Ending the Divide Between the Haves and Have Nots
By Carol Evans, President of Working Mother Media
When we examine have and have not issues in the United States, we usually think of the digital divide or the enormous gap between the rich and the poor or the difference in resources of city schools versus suburban schools. We rarely think of paid family leave, but we should. There's a huge have/have not divide between moms who receive paid maternity leave and moms who only receive either Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time--twelve weeks of unpaid leave, which is mandated for companies with 50 or more employees (and applies to about half of U.S. workers)--or no job-guaranteed time away from work.
The gap has to do with a woman's profession, the company she works for, the state or city she lives in. And the gap is terribly unfair to both mothers and babies on the have not side of the equation.
Of all companies in the US, only 16 percent offer paid maternity leave. That leaves new moms at 84 percent of all companies on the have not side of this issue. Of all states in the union, only a handful, including California and New Jersey, mandate paid leave for moms. Of all job types, women in professional and managerial roles are most likely to receive paid leave; many hourly, technical, unskilled and low-paid workers get no paid time off.
As with most have/have not gaps there is something doubly or triply unfair about the paid and unpaid divide. New mothers who have the most physically demanding jobs are least likely to have paid time off to recover from the enormously taxing effort of giving birth. Families already struggling to make ends meet receive no pay for the time they stay home with their newborn. And moms who most need their jobs are forced to go back to work too soon because they can't live without their paycheck.
This scenario seems all the more absurd or outrageous when you consider the global have and have nots of paid leave. Only the US, Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea allow their citizens to go unpaid during the critical and expensive time of a new birth. All of the world is on the have column and the US stands nearly alone in the have not column. If that sounds odd to you, imagine how it feels to a mom in Anywhere, USA, who has to return to work before three months because she can't afford to go without her paycheck.
It feels gut wrenching.
When FMLA passed in 1993, most women, myself included, thought it would be a few years before we mandated paid leave. It's been two decades.
It's time for the country to follow California's excellent role modeling on this issue to mandate paid leave and set up the system that pays for the have nots with small contributions to an insurance fund. No more have nots for American moms!
Carol Evans is president and founder of Working Mother Media, which includes Working Mother magazine, workingmother.com, the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) and Diversity Best Practices. Evans is also the author of This Is How We Do It: The Working Mother Manifesto.