Why We’re Moving to the U.K.: How Behind Is the U.S. in Paid Parental Leave?

Okay, okay, we’re not really moving. However, I’ve found an issue that gets me so revved up, so frustrated, so angry, so ready-to-throw-a-two-year-old-style-temper-tantrum that it really makes me want to consider it. What’s that issue? Parental leave. Take a look at this infographic:

As the article from The Huffington Post states, the U.S. is one of four countries–four countries–that does not mandate paid maternity leave. The other countries? Lesotho (an enclave of South Africa), Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea.

Before B and I had really started talking about a baby seriously, I didn’t understand this shameful fact about the U.S. I even remember saying, “I don’t want to have a baby during the summer! Then I wouldn’t get to take any time off!” Ha. I was shocked when I found out that maternity leave is unpaid for most (88%) of Americans. Suddenly, what I had looked forward to as a joyous celebration of becoming a mother turned into an anxiety-inducing worry-fest of how-the-heck-we’d-ever-afford-a-maternity-leave.

Companies have the option of offering paid maternity leave. And some (12%) do, as they know it’s a way to attract female employees and retaining those employers for longer. Google, for example, has got it down:

[Subsidized child care] continues to be a benefit at Google, as are other family-friendly perks like a $500 stipend for takeout meals after a baby is born, paid leave of up to five months for new mothers and seven weeks for new fathers, and conveniences like dry cleaners on Google’s campus so people can complete errands during the workday. (from www.NYTimes.com)

For the remaining Americans who do not work for awesome companies like Google (see this slideshow for more companies that offer some sort of a paid leave), many are granted up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, many small business employees are exempt from this law, and many companies do not allow parents to utilize accrued disability leave pay during this time.

So, what is being done about this injustice towards the working American family? The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act was introduced to the House in Dec. 2013 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The act currently has 75 co-sponsors (none from Kansas–surprise, surprise). Here’s some information about the act (and where I got those percentages I cited):

If you’re against clicking links, here’s what I understand:

  • The FAMILY Act would provide up to 12 weeks of partially paid maternity leave (up to 66% of an employee’s income, up to a capped amount).
  • The act would cover all employees who had earned income from employment for 12 months before filing for the benefit.
  • The funding would come from small employee contributions (.2% of income).
  • The pay would be distributed by a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, as part of the Social Security Administration. The aforementioned employee contributions would cover administrative costs as well.

Lastly, Working Mother magazine is supporting this bill, and through it I found this online petition. It’s easy to just fill in your information. Here’s the link:

Did you know how far behind the U.S. is in paid parental leave? Would you support the FAMILY Act?

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12 thoughts on “Why We’re Moving to the U.K.: How Behind Is the U.S. in Paid Parental Leave?

  1. You should actually move to Canada. We actually get a year off now! It was 6 months when I had my first son 14 years ago but by the time I had my second it was up to a year. still at the reduced pay rate, but better than nothing!

    • So jealous! That just makes so much sense. In the U.S., we put all this pressure on how our kids aren’t prepared for school, we’re behind in education, etc., etc…. but we’re dumping them in day care at just 6 weeks old! Where is the time to foster a good environment for family values and education!?

  2. I work for one of the “best companies for working mothers” and it’s awesome! I’m not even a mother yet but it’s nice to know that they have paid maternal AND paternal leave and lots of flexible time off, etc. It just makes me feel better about the company in general!

    • Ahhh, I’m jealous! You would think more school districts would cater to working mothers, since so many teachers are in the same boat I’m in. I agree–that shows that your company has their head in the right place.

  3. As a teacher with a co-worker/friend currently on maternity leave, I had NO IDEA how bad this was until she was telling me about her experience. Since she hadn’t been working in the county for a full SCHOOL year (she had worked there for a calendar year), they told her that she would ONLY have 6 weeks or else her job might not be held for her. What?!? I didn’t realize how hard it was to take maternity leave!

  4. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the heading of your post!!!
    Oh wow!! I never knew that you had it that tough in the US. I’d never really given it much thought. I’m in Australia and we get minimum wage for 18 weeks, which is around $500 a week. A lot of work places also provide paid maternity leave. I used to work in Local Government, which would give you about 12-14 weeks paid leave at your normal pay rate. You can take a total of two years off work to look after your baby and be guaranteed to have your job when you decide to go back.
    That being said, there are some terrible companies too. My friend worked for a company where they only paid her two days maternity leave – one day to pop the baby out and one day to recover, on top of the money the government gives you. She was in labour for two days, so there goes that theory!
    But after reading your post, I will never complain about the maternity leave we get in Australia. Good luck with everything and don’t stress – it’ll work out. Getting pregnant was obviously a sign that you were supposed to have a baby now and that it would all work out.

    • I know, it’s awful, isn’t it? I think it shows exactly where our country does NOT have its priorities straight.

      We are prepared to save for maternity leave, and are fortunate that the lack of regulation doesn’t mean I’ll be going back to work right away (I’ll take about 5 weeks of my accrued sick days, then probably tack on about 3 weeks unpaid). However, there are many families for whom that is simply not an option.

      I’m prepared to become an advocate for change in this area!

  5. Hey Katie,
    I agree it is pretty horrible that we are one of only 4 countries who don’t have this mandated to protect new mothers. However, I personally use an insurance company through work that I can keep even if I quit or lose my job as long as I pay my fixed rates, and have a plan that I personally selected that will give me 3 months match of my salary for maternity leave or any kind of hospitalization ect. I think I pay 40$ or less a month for this. Not saying it is right but it may help to do some research because there may be more options out there than you think.

  6. I don’t understand why the US does this. I am in Canada and I have a whole year off +6 weeks because my back was so sore at work that I got sick leave. Mind you we only get 55%, and most countries get 80-100%, but whatever. 55% has been a huge adjustment for us financially, but it has been awesome being at home with my little man!

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