Paid Parental Leave in America
Should we allow it?
Do you think you are entitled to payment when you are taking care of your child outside of work? If so, that means that you support employees throughout America receiving paid parental leave. Parental leave is when a parent takes time off from work to take care of his or her child while still being paid as if he or she never left their job. This is actually very common practice throughout the world and all major industrialized countries, except America, allow for paid maternity leave. Should America also allow this practice?
Parental leave is not unheard of in the United States. It was actually a hot topic a few years ago, and in 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act was passed. This allowed both mothers and fathers to take up to twelve weeks off work to be with their newborn and still maintain their position. However, this law does not mandate than an employer has to pay the employee during their time off work. (Paid 1) Only 10-15% of employers allow their employees to be paid for their time off. Even on these occasions, this practice is exclusive to white collar jobs and businesses that can afford to spend that kind of money.
Only three out of 178 countries do not guarantee their new mothers a paid leave, and the United States is one of them. The others are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. A survey taken in March 2011 revealed that, of all the private and public sector workers, only 11% and 17% of them stated that their bosses provide them paid parental leaves. Only New Jersey and California offer men and women six weeks of paid parental leave. However, both programs have proven to be very successful in spite of any economic troubles within the states. The leaves there are not job-guaranteed, however, which makes taking time off more risky and difficult. Family Medical Leave Act that is job-guaranteed is available, and it even lasts twelve weeks. This form of leave is unpaid though, and anyone with 50 workers or less is completely exempt, eliminating a large percentage of workers. (Minn. 1)
This issue remains relevant even today. The Senate of Minnesota recently approved a bill called the Women’s Economic Security Act on May 12 this year. This bill goes in depth and extends the boundaries of parental leave and improves workplace conditions for pregnant women in order to accommodate them. Minnesota parents are given an extra 6-12 weeks of break time in cases of birth, pregnancy, or even adopting a child. (Practical 2) Workplaces there also have to set aside a private area for mothers who are breastfeeding to pump milk. Just to make sure employers don’t try to bypass mothers for promotions, this WESA adds "familial status" to the current laws to stop any unfair practices and. Any company with a state contract with a value of $500,000 or more has to prove for certain that men and women are given similar wages. (Reasons 1)
While this means we as a country are moving further towards allowing parental leaves as a common practice, there is a distinct bias towards women reaping the benefits, moreso than men. Although this is because of various different reasons, one of the most prominent is the old principle of traditional gender roles in many of the countries that allow their employees time off to take care of their newborn children or toddlers. Employers would rather spend money on a mother taking time off from her job than a father. So not only are we refused pay while spending time on our newborns, but employers would rather the mothers be paid for it instead.
To put this in perspective, a survey called the 2012 National Study of Employers was taken. Some of the questions were about family leave, and the results were eye-opening. When it comes to the form of paid leave given privately and directly from employer to employee, 58% of mothers who were offered leave after giving birth actually received payment going towards “maternity disability”, but only 14% of all men on parental leave received anything at all. In other words, 42% of the nation’s mothers and 86% of all the fathers were denied any form of paid leave to take time for their kids. (Politics 27)
Paid leave is not exclusive to children. Family leave can also involve taking time off work to care for the elder members of the family. In 2010, 45% of American employees stated that they had responsibilities involving eldercare within the last five years, and 49% expected five more years of responsibilities to come. This issue will only continue to rise in relevance as the population gets older. (Fathers 1)
Controversy over this subject has been around ever since the subject came up. A major issue that arises from the prospect of paid parental leave is the possibility of foul-play. There are so many people who call the entire concept a scam. It’s not hard to blame them. How many people in this country do you think would take advantage of being paid not to go to work? Why add on extra, paid time off when there are already plenty of sick days and vacation days? (Interview)
Well the hard truth is that most parents in the country will have to work. Here in the real world, in order to support a family, you need to have an income. Recent studies by the Center for American Progress show that “in 2010, among families with children, 49% were headed by two working parents and 26% by single parents.” A family’s financial well-being is determined by the income of both parents in the household. A study in 2009 showed that, in families where both parents worked, wives contributed 47% of all family earnings. (Reasons 2)
Best put by an article from the Forbes Website, “Paid family leave as public policy acknowledges the reality of caregiving by creating a uniform, clear response”. Everyone knows how occupations work. The people of our nation do not have to be unprofessional about this whole issue. Employers can plan in advance for how to divide up worker hours when someone needs a six week time off. When it comes to maternity leave, you usually have months to plan ahead. Maybe an employer could lessen the pay for time off, and use the money to have the other workers divide up and take care of the missing employee’s duties. Maybe the spare money could go towards a substitute. Or maybe other forms of paid leave such as vacations and sick days can simply go towards family leave days instead. According to a follow-up study of California’s employers, most of them felt like paying their employees while they took time off for family had either a neutral or positive impact on their businesses. (Reasons 3)
The important thing to remember is that paid family leave is in no way a tax. More accurately, paying an employee to take time off from work for their kids or elders is more like giving them insurance. Whether or not an employer knows it, they already pay their employees to take time off one way or another in an indirect form. An employee will more often-than-not choose their family over their work. As it turns out, many people cannot afford to lose their workers. Going through the entire process is both-time consuming and expensive. (Reasons 3)
So in the end, paid parental leave is indeed a very sensitive and very exploitable subject. (Guide 2) As a country, we are still a long ways away from being able to do it as a nationwide practice. No, it will not throw anyone under major financial duress, but there’s no absolute guarantee that it will work out either. Only time will tell if we can ever trust our employees to take responsibility, both in the workplace and in their family lives.
It has come to my attention
that the leaders of our nation
have no intention
of starting parental vacations.
It seems quite strange
that we don’t go that way
when it’s within our range
to give workers their pay.
Other countries do it
so why shouldn’t we?
Are we afraid to commit
or do we just disagree?
Why do we stay unbowed
and expect the mothers
to be the only ones allowed
to stay home with the others?
If we’re a free nation
and that’s what we believe
we must end our reservation
and pay for parental leave.
To My Mother
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,"
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.
My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.
Edgar Allan Poe, 1849
What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.
The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.
They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.
Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.
They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.
It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them
The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.
Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.
This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,
they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,
how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,
taking the last link
of that chain with them.
Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.
William Meredith, 1985
Parental leave has been a hot debate for a very long time. There is no doubt that it is a very controversial subject. There are many American citizens out there who abuse the privileges and vacation times they already have. However, I truly believe that paid parental leave is a necessity for the United States.
A lot of workers in America have children. Others have elder family members who cannot care for themselves. Sometimes, they need to take time off from work in order to take care of them. The problem is not a lot of employers out there allow their employees to receive payment while they are not working. Very few jobs allow that.
Parental leave itself has been called out numerous times for being a “scam”. Many people believe that if you are not working, you should not be paid. The fact of the matter is that most Americans will have people they need to take care of, and they need money to be able to do that. Some people just cannot work.
Honestly, we will need to accommodate parents when it comes to the priority of familial responsibilities. This is not an issue that can be avoided forever. At some point, we will all need to reach a compromise and help the people who need to help others.
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TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
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