What Do the United States’ Parental Leave Policies Look Like Now?

What Do the United States’ Parental Leave Policies Look Like Now?

A hot button topic in the 2016 presidential election is paid parental leave. All three of the Democratic candidates—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley— have plans for paid parental leave included in their platforms. Marco Rubio is so far the only Republican candidate to come out with any type of plan for paid parental leave, although his is in the form of a tax credit for companies who offer paid family leave instead of a government mandate for all employers to offer it.

Currently in the United States, most workers are covered under the Family Medical Leave Act which provides up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid family leave. This makes the U.S. the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. Additionally, of the 34 democracies with market economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States is one out of nine countries that do not offer paternity leave.

While it is encouraging to see several candidates advocating for paid parental leave, the amount of candidates who do not see a government mandate as imperative is concerning. It’s time for the United States to take its place among the other industrialized nations in the world to make sure that women who want to take time off of work to spend with their newborn children receive the necessary assistance to do so and are not punished in the workplace for their decision.

Additionally, it is important to note that we are advocating for parental leave here. Employers need to offer paid paternity and maternity leave if they truly want to do what is best for their employees and if they want to contribute to shrinking gender gaps in the workplace. In today’s society, the majority of families with children include two working parents. As the cost of childcare has increased more than 70%, from $87 a week in 1985 to $148 a week in 2011, more couples have been forced to have one parent stay at home to take care of the child. Without paid leave, this parent is often forced to quit his/her job.

Paid paternity and maternity leave will allow both parents to keep their jobs while devoting the time and care necessary to their newborn child. Studies have shown that paid family leave is beneficial to the child, reducing deaths of infants and young children.

In addition to benefiting the child’s health, paternity leave will encourage fathers to take a more active role in childcare. No longer will responsibility fall solely on the mother to take care of household duties like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and watching the children. The gender dynamics of the family will be altered to positively encourage equality.

Going even further, offering paid paternity and maternity leave will help shrink the gender pay gap and overall inequality in the workplace. Today, women often hesitate to go for promotions or ask for raises because they know they might be taking time off to take care of their children in the future. With paid parental leave, neither parent will be penalized for taking time off to spend with their children, and the responsibility to do so will no longer solely lay on the woman. In fact, a study on a paid family leave program in Sweden found that a woman’s income increased 7% for every month that her husband took of.

Offering paid parental leave is beneficial to the employers because it increases employee retention rates. California is one of three states to institute paid family leave programs, and studies found that employee retention in lower-skilled jobs increased to 83% for those who took leave compared to 74% of those who didn’t take it. Because of this, employers save $89 million a year. Additionally, in the three states, 91% of employers said that it had a positive or neutral effect on profitability and 89% said it had a positive or neutral effect on productivity.

There is simply too much evidence in support of paid paternity and maternity leave to ignore it. Implementing it would result in huge steps of progress towards decreasing the gender pay gap, keeping more people in the workforce, promoting gender equality in the home, bettering children’s health, and increasing profitability and productivity. There is no explanation for why the United States is the only developed nation in the world to not offer paid maternity leave.

It is time for all politicians to come into the 21st century and realize that paid parental leave is not something that they can continue to put off.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.