The Power of Paid Parental Leave

All of the countries colored in black represent countries that offer some form of paid parental leave.

All of the countries colored in black represent countries that offer some form of paid parental leave.

Bridgette Lang, Features Editor

According to the Center for American Progress, the United States is one of four countries in the world where workers do not have the legislated right to paid maternity leave. Among these other countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea, the United States stands out as the only developed country and world power.

Sweden is the world’s leader in paid leave. Not only do they offer leave to the mother, but fathers are included too. According to the International Labor Office of Geneva’s Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, parents are given a total of 480 days to share, and the time can be taken off until the child is 8 years old. Out of the 480 days, 60 are allocated specifically to the father. Swedes also receive 80 percent of their wages.

Parental leave, which includes maternity, paternity, and adoption leave, is commonplace in most countries. The United States has the resources, power, and awareness to make paid parental leave a reality, but Congress has neglected this topic. Legislation that offers parents paid leave has the potential to create a more equal workplace.

“I think that government and society in general benefit when families and children are healthy and happy with some time of parental leave,” social studies and gifted seminar teacher Mrs. Katie Quartuch said. “All of society benefits when the government money is well spent.”

Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This program does not provide any benefits and only protects one from being fired. With unpaid leave, it raises the question of how are parents supposed to make the choice between their child and being able to financially support their family.

Caring for a newborn is already expensive enough, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2015, only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employer. Even with a small number of employers offering some type of paid leave, the time period offered may not be adequate for some families.

Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, and Johnson & Johnson are just a few of the larger corporations that offer paid leave to all parents. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, in December 2016, American Express extended its paid parental leave to 20 weeks.

Within our school, teachers are given paid leave under an agreement between Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and District Service Employees. No teachers will exceed 12 months of total paid leave, including emergency leave. After that, all leave will be unpaid. For maternity leave, women are required to use up all their sick days before they are certified by a doctor for unpaid leave.

One major problem with the current system is that all types of leave are clumped together, not providing teachers with a case-by-case opportunity for leave. Compared to the 88 percent of U.S. workers who do not have access to paid leave, the teachers at Southern Lehigh and across Pennsylvania have it pretty good.

This type of opportunity needs to be offered to everyone, no matter the size of the organization or business that a person may work for. Considering this, legislation would allow everyone to have access.

Many states have implemented their own paid parental leave, which has actually stabilized the economy, contrary to popular belief. California, along with New Jersey and Rhode Island, has only seen positive effects after guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid leave.

The New York Times reports that the program helps new parents return to work in the end and in turn, earn higher wages. Without paid parental leave, parents would be less motivated and less rested to return to their work. With openings in jobs, employers will be forced to spend the time and the money to find new employees.

Not only does paid parental leave allow fathers to have a larger role within family life, it motivates women to keep their jobs. A 2007 University of Massachusetts study found that 60 percent of women who stopped working reported that they were unable to keep up with a job and their house duties. This included their husbands’ unavailability to share childcare duties.

“There is no maternity leave for men,” art teacher Mrs. Stephanie Donald said. “My husband had to use sick days [to take off and help]. It is helpful to have the second parent, especially with twins.”

Right now, the problem is that men are not being offered any or an adequate amount of time for paid leave in order to be helping around the house or to care for their newborn. In a Boston College Study, 89 percent of men indicated it was important for employers to provide paid paternity or paid parental leave, and 60 percent of the respondents indicated that it was extremely important or very important.

“I absolutely think that more time for parental leave would be beneficial. The time off is very important because it really helps you settle into it and contemplate being a father,” English teacher and new father Mr. Michael Fay said. “The toughest thing was balancing my desire to come back to work or society’s expectations to come to work. I feel the pressures of society; I’m not numb to it.”

The U.S. is the closest to installing paid leave than it ever has been before. President Trump claimed that he would aim to introduce a proposal of six weeks of paid leave during his presidential campaign, but he has not pushed the issue since then. Despite this, legislation in both the House and Senate have gained bipartisan support.

In the Republican tax bill, maternity and paternity leave are included. The Washington Post reports that the legislation would allow employers to claim a credit of up to 25 percent of the wages they pay to employees who take time off under FMLA. This measure would encourage employers to offer paid leave to workers, but Democrats claim that the plan introduced would not do enough in helping small businesses and the majority of employers.

The clear solution to solving this ongoing issue is government control of parental leave. Discrepancies between different states and businesses have the potential to make the GOP-proposed program unsuccessful.

Nationwide legislation makes the program more uniform and easier to control. By cutting a small percentage of the military budget or raising taxes, the United States could offer every family a portion of their typical income.

Though the United States is usually deemed as a “leader” or an “innovator” among the rest of the world, we need to be a follower in this situation. We have so many examples and different aspects to draw on from other countries’ legislation.

It is easy to see the success that other countries and states have found with passing parental leave bills, and now we need to translate that success to the entire country. Paid parental leave is not a luxury; it is a necessity.