By ELEANOR HEDGES DUROY, age 12
The United States has one of the least progressive parental leaves in the world. In fact, the United States, Oman and Papua New Guinea are the only countries without a legal requirement for employers to provide paid leave. Sweden offers 480 days of paid leave for parents to split before a child turns eight.
In contrast, the American Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees that a new parent’s job will be held for 60 days, but it does not guarantee payment during leave. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11 percent of private sector employees, 16 percent of state employees and no federal employees are offered paid parental leave. When FMLA time is exhausted, parents must return to work or lose their jobs; this places a burden on parents who must pay high sums of money for adequate childcare.
New parents need time off work after birth or adoption to become familiar with their new children, rest and adjust to changing life circumstances. Lack of paid parental leave harms working-class, lower-middle-class and single-income families across all races. Also, female-headed African-American or Latino families are more likely to be already living below the poverty line.
Currently three U.S. states (California, Rhode Island and New Jersey) offer paid parental leave ranging from 20-30 days at less than 50 percent pay, but even these lag far behind:
- United Kingdom (280 days at 90 percent pay)
- France, Spain and Netherlands (112 days at 100 percent pay)
- Italy (140 days at 80 percent pay)
- Russia (140 days at 100 percent pay)
In an open letter to President Obama, writer Regan Long asks the president to rethink U.S. family leave laws. “As one mother speaking on behalf of hundreds of thousands of hard-working mothers, please protect this vital time for a mother and newborn.”