This is the sort of tidbit that makes the rounds via Facebook. (One recent meme “mapped” paid maternity leave, showing how many more weeks of paid leave Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, and Venezuela give to new moms, compared with zero from the US.) It gets repeated as a given in debates and on social action websites such as Change.org.
So we wanted to find out – is it true? Is the US, globally, really all that bad when it comes to family leave policies?
It’s an important question. The lack of paid leave has major ripple effects. Although the US Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks off after the birth of the child, it only covers a fraction of the US workforce, and does not require employers to pay the parent's salary. This means that many moms (and some dads) face the financial lose-lose of either giving up large amounts of income while they stay home with baby, or spending lots of money on high-priced infant day care.
Researchers have found that a new baby in the house is one of the top reasons for a “poverty spell,” when a family’s income dips below what is needed to pay for basic expenses. Some studies have also connected bankruptcy filings and foreclosures to moms or dads who take leave without pay after the birth of a child.
But does the US actually “lag behind,” as a number of advocates say?