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U.S. -- Left Behind in Parental Leave

September 2, 2008

St. Paul, MN – Having a baby and planning to take some time off work? First, you'd better check your employer's parental leave policy. Although the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act sets federal, minimum standards for parental leave, it doesn't apply to small employers and short-term workers, which means 40 percent of the U.S. workforce isn't covered.

That puts the United States dead last compared to 20 other industrialized nations, according to a new report. Worker advocates say that's not good enough. The study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an economic think-tank, ranks the United States dead last among 21 high-income countries in a comparison of the overall generosity of their parental leave policies. Criteria used included length of guaranteed leave, benefits and flexibility.

Eliot Siede (SIDE), executive director of AFSCME Council 5, which represents 43,000 of Minnesota's state, local, higher education and nonprofit workers, believes the findings show that Americans have lost track of a basic value.
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"If the United States is going to compete with other industrialized nations, it needs to treat its workers better. It needs to offer the most generous, not the most stingy, parental leave policies."

Siede says lack of a broad, well-funded national leave policy works against the best interests of employers, parents and their children.

"Parenthood is stressful enough. American workers shouldn't have to risk their jobs and their financial well-being to raise a baby. A new parent should be able to nurture a baby with assurance that his or her job will be there."

The study found that employers in the highest-ranking countries generally had generous, gender-neutral leave policies, plus pool financing to limit risk among employers, and flexible scheduling for workers. Such policies, says Siede, have both immediate and long-term benefits.

"A parent ought to be able to spend time with their newborn. Nurture them. Bond with them, get to know them. It's the way we build strong children into strong adults and positive citizens."

The countries ranking highest on generosity and gender equality are Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, Spain and Greece.
The full report can be viewed online, at www.cepr.net.

Jim Wishner/Steve Powers, Public News Service - MN