The average American woman who never got her high school diploma makes about $365 a week. That means, if she works every single week from January 1 through December 31, she’ll earn a total of $20,540 a year. But if that woman’s expecting a child, she is going to have to take some time off. And there’s a four in five chance that, here in the United States, she won’t get even a day’s worth of paid maternity leave to deliver her baby or be with her newborn.
The United States is one of the only developed countries that does not offer paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act is supposed to provide protection for expecting mothers, but its stringent requirements exclude a lot of women, particularly low-income, low-education women of color. About half the workforce doesn’t qualify for FMLA.
But even if their jobs do fall under the requirements (they must have worked “for at least 12 months and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during that time for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius”), they aren’t guaranteed any income.
A new proposal from the Center for American Progress, however, is trying to remedy that. Its plan for Social Security Cares would require employers to give qualified employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave for certain life events that include “the birth of a newborn or the arrival of a newly adopted or fostered child; The serious illness of a spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child; The worker’s own serious illness that limits his or her ability to work.”
Women are growing to be a larger and larger percentage of the primary breadwinners in their homes. But for many, the joy of motherhood evaporates into a panic of trying make ends meet.
Paid maternity leave is a societal investment that would ultimately benefit everyone, including employers. Offering paid maternity leave allows employees to stay at their jobs who would otherwise be forced to quit, lowering training and start-up costs for employers. It also allows employers to recruit the best person for the job without the employee having to consider leave policy. When such a policy was implemented in California, 99 percent of employers found it had either no effect or a positive impact on employee morale; 91 percent said the same about profitability, and 89 percent said the same about productivity.