Paid Maternity Leave Examined

Blog by Shannon Torgersen, Junior Associate

The United States is one of the most advanced nations in the world and consistently ranks in the Top 10 GDP per capita. However, despite being a leading first world nation militaristically, politically, and economically; the United States severely lacks in the benefits in which it provides its own citizens. The nation is one of the only first world nations, that does not provide maternity leave to its citizens. While leave policies vary from state to state, currently most states only offer the bare minimum as required by law. Many employers offer a combination of short-term disability (for the birth of the child/recovery) along with paid family leave (if it is state that offers it) to be used in conjunction with the unpaid job protection, FMLA.  New York recently made headlines, as Governor Hochal signed into budget the nation’s first ever 20 hours of paid sick leave for prenatal care, in addition to all currently existing sick leave.

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world with one of the highest income tax rates in the developed world, the United States fails to provide the same level of protection and care for new families that our counterparts provide. The level of benefits provided changes from nation to nation; however, one thing remains true. The United States is the only developed country that offers no national paid maternity leave.

While many individuals know that European nations have extensive leave and medical benefits; paid maternity leave is not limited to Europe. For instance, Australians receive 12 weeks of paid maternity leave at a rate of approximately 43.1% of their salary; whereas their similarly named European counterpart Austria, provides a total of 16 weeks at 100% pay (1/2 of which must start before the child’s due date). Bulgaria provides more than a year of paid maternity leave, 58.6 weeks, at 90% of the mother’s previous full-time pay. Colombian and Chilean new mothers are able to receive 18 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, with Costa Rica following close at 17.3 weeks. While other nations, such at the United Kingdom allow up to a full year off, only 39 weeks are paid and at a very reduced rate of 29.5% of the salary.

The benefits of paid maternity leave to society, individuals, and businesses have been documented for years. It can help keep women in the workforce over time, reduce their need of public assistance, but also reduce employer costs in replacing the employee. The United States should examine the benefits and policies of our international counterparts and consider adopting a national paid maternity leave program.

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