By contrast, the United States is arguably the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t give all new moms paid time off. In a 2007 report that studied 173 countries, a Harvard and McGill University research team found that 168 nations provide some form of paid income benefit for childbirth, leaving the United States in the company of four other countries – Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papau New Guinea – that do not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave.
Even US companies that are praised for being family friendly offer little more than six weeks of fully paid leave. The resulting financial pressure causes many moms to separate prematurely from their newborns. Given all we know about early childhood development, this separation imposes a high cost on families and society in years to come.
An American mother might be able to afford to take another six weeks of unpaid leave, or some companies may allow her to use sick time to extend her paid leave. She must return to work within 12 weeks, however, or risk losing her job. Fathers are generally absent from the equation unless they qualify for, and can afford to take, the 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But since FMLA applies only to companies with more than 50 employees, about 40 percent of US workers aren’t eligible.
Such help is no help at all to the growing number of homeless and jobless families. And millions of families that try to keep a parent at home with the kids must do so without good health insurance. These families face the fear that one health crisis could leave them in financial ruin.