The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not offer any national paid maternity or paternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 grants 60 percent of American employees only 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Eligibility only applies to public agencies, public and private schools, and companies with 50 or more employees who have worked 1,250 hours over the past 12 months.
Mothers and fathers in the United States should receive at least 12 weeks of full pay to care for their newborn child. As the wealth gap in America increases, paid leave can be funded through taxes on the ultra-wealthy. Americans should not have to sacrifice their right to raise a family to make rent. As a developed nation, the United States needs to show concerted support towards its families.
The United States ranks last in UNICEF 2019 report on “family friendliness” among the wealthiest nations, with zero weeks of required paid leave for both the mother and father. Estonia is at the top of the UNICEF list, giving female employees 18 months of fully paid maternity leave, with continued government financial support until the child turns three. In Chile, the mother and father receive about half a year’s pay: the mother is allowed 30 weeks paid leave and given the option to transfer some of the weeks leave to their partner.
Based on our current system, a low-income parent in the United States is forced to immediately return to work after the birth of their child to put food on the table. Parents return to work sleep deprived, physically and mentally drained, and heartbroken due to being apart from their child during the formative first years. An absent parent can result in significant damage in the child, with an increase in the likelihood of suicide, drug addiction, and incarceration. The government is essentially compromising healthy long term family growth for short term business gratification.
After years of public support for paid maternity leave but no government intervention, President Joe Biden proposed his new American Family Plan on April 28, 2021. In this plan Biden details 12 weeks paid maternity leave where mother’s will be eligible to receive up to $4,000 a month, replacing a minimum of ⅔ of workers’ weekly wages. The plan is projected to cost $225 billion and President Biden intends to fund the plan by raising taxes on the wealthiest margin of Americans.
Although the plan shows great progress for American families, it includes a major fault: a lack of paid paternity leave. By not including the father or partner who did not give birth in the leave, undue pressure is placed upon the mother to attend to a disproportionate number of responsibilities. Maternity leave without paternity leave implies that the woman’s job ultimately lies with childcare, perpetuating the narrative of women staying home and men going to the office. It can seriously affect women in the workforce, and could even result in a hesitancy to hire young female workers.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans, mainly conservative, believe that government funded maternity leave would hurt small businesses. They claim that the resources needed to retrain and hire employees would drain employers and slow profits. When questioned on family leave, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro stated, “So now, presumably, businesses will be forced to cover – or taxpayers will – the cost of hiring a temp, a potential decrease in productivity, and the cost of the benefits.” However, these concerns are illegitimate.
According to President Biden’s plan, only ultra-wealthy individuals would be responsible to cover these costs which will do nothing but take pressure off small businesses. Additionally, businesses would have 9 months to prepare for potential employee replacement. New hires would be greatly beneficial to the business, as their focused, productive work would be more beneficial than a sleep-deprived new parent’s. This plan also assists small businesses who normally couldn’t afford to pay these benefits. In California, where many employee benefit plans are already in place, have been met with 91% approval.
President Biden’s plan should not be the end goal for the United States, but it is a step in the right direction and will benefit the majority of Americans. Conservatives need to succumb to some level of government intervention for the well being of American families. The United States is spending tax money on businesses to “heal” issues that can be prevented by providing children with real parental support.