U.S. lags behind developed countries in paid parental leave
It’s been nine days since San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate a minimum of six weeks of fully paid parental leave for mothers and fathers regardless of the parent’s gender and whether they are biological or adoptive parents.
Why is it that the United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid leave?
The law, unanimously approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last Tuesday, piggybacks on the California state mandate that funds parental leave with 55 percent of wages.
There are three U.S. states aside from California that mandate paid parental leave: New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York.
Let’s put things into perspective: in a nation that claims to be so advanced, only 12 percent of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.
Mandates are a step in the right direction but might not resonate as effectively with those who aren’t parents.
That’s not to say those who don’t have children don’t sympathize, but they aren’t the ones who have to leave a crying child at day care each morning. They don’t experience the feeling of neglect that ensues when they have to say goodbye to their child.
“They’re trying to be more progressive, move forward (and) are an example to follow,” said Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Director Elizabeth Gregory in reference to San Francisco’s new mandate.
Having employers provide this opportunity can and will enable parents to stay home and care for their infants for the first six weeks of their lives. This is a step forward from the practice of women staying home permanently, and quitting their jobs, to tend to their children.
San Francisco is rightfully paving the way for other U.S. cities and states by creating room for discussion.
It’s a significant difference from the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which grants you “federal protection to keep your job as opposed to federally protected salary,” said assistant professor Leslie Frankel of the human development and family studies program.
“The beginning of an infant’s life is a critical period. Alleviating some of that stress for parents is nothing but beneficial to the baby and the parent-child relationship,” Frankel said.
Research conducted by professor Christopher J. Ruhm at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro concluded that “parental presence during the early years constitutes a significant investment in child development,” so much so that it can affect both cognitive and behavioral outcomes.
While the question of whether universal paid parental leave is fiscally feasible or not remains, the rest of the world has apparently managed to do what the U.S. is barely beginning to fathom.
Opinion columnist Sanjuanita Gonzalez is a communication senior and may be reached at [email protected]