This morning I caught a few minutes of the Today Show as I was getting ready for work. For once, it was actually an interesting and helpful segment for working women, this time it was on maternity leave. It never fails to amaze me that people don’t know just how backwards our country is on this subject – but it seems most people just don’t focus on it until it personally impacts them.
So let’s get started with maternity leave 101. The United States is one of 4 countries that has no law guaranteeing paid maternity leave. If you are wondering in who’s company do we keep – the answer is: Swaziland (any clue where Swaziland is?), Liberia and Papa New Guinea. Oh, and the grand old United States. Those are the four countries that do not offer women paid time off for maternity leave.
And yet, people still believe the conservatives that have been running this country into the ground – care so much about family values?
But I digress.
So – if you didn’t know that before – then shame on you – and now you know it. It is imperative that KT readers are informed.
What I’ve also noticed is that once people recover from the shock of learning that, then they learn that under FMLA, women who work for companies with 50 or more employees, can leave their job for 12 weeks and return to their job or one similar. This is NOT PAID TIME – it is 12 weeks. But again – the caveat is that this law only applies to companies with 50+ employees.
OK – so Meredith covered this in the segment this morning with a reporter who’s story is in the most recent Cookie Mag. (anyone read that mag? I do on occasion but feel like it’s really meant for those who shop only at Neimans and Saks and I’m not sure it really applies to my lifestyle most days). Though I was outraged that Meredith, who has been a reporter for how many years, didn’t even know that we don’t offer paid maternity leave in this country – I recovered when I learned something really surprising.
Apparently only 8% of women receive paid maternity leave in this country. 8%. WOW – that is really disturbing. It was disturbing enough to think about the fact that it’s not a federal law – but I orbit a world where pretty much all the moms I know have received some form of paid leave. Was it overly generous? Only in one instance.
Was it more like 6 weeks off paid and then saved vacation cobbled together to eek out 12 weeks paid home with a new baby and a slowly recovering body and mind?
Yes – but still – it was paid time – and let’s not call it ‘paid time off’ – because could that be anymore misleading? I wasn’t “off” when I was on maternity leave. In fact, I’d never been more on call in my life.
Again, I digress.
So basically – it’s just another sad example of class distinctions in this country. The 8% are women of privilege – right? Women who have college degrees, probably Masters degrees, professional jobs, disposable income and nannies. We all need the time home with the baby and to recover physically – whether we went to college or not – and it’s just a sad state of affairs that we are bedfellows with under developed, poor countries – on an issue that involves the health of women and the bond between mother and child.
The legislators and President should all have a red face over this one.
The little that I’ve learned from the Cookie Mag piece (http://www.cookiemag.com/homefront/2008/02/maternityleave) and MomsRising is that, like many other legislative issues, this particular issue is being taken up at the state level and changes at the state level are our best shot at forcing change on the federal level. Right now California is the bellwether state, mandating some form of paid disability leave. Massachusetts, Washington state, New Jersey and New York have proposed bills:
I frankly, don’t know where the presidential candidates stand on this issue. Check back later this week and I promise to give you an overview. The one thing I do know is that Senator Dodd has been a long-time advocate of a federal policy on maternity leave – so it’s too bad he didn’t last longer in the presidential race as it might have given this issue more of a platform.