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Investigation: U.S. Failing in Paid Time Off For Moms

Fewer than one in seven American women have access to paid maternity leave, a report finds. Credit: SolStock.
Fewer than one in seven American women have access to paid maternity leave, a report finds. Credit: SolStock.
August 27, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - The U.S. is dramatically behind the rest of the world in providing adequate support for mothers to spend time with their newborn babies, according to an investigative report by In These Times magazine.

Sharon Lerner, the report's author, found most other countries, rich or poor, mandate paid maternity leave. Lerner says American moms frequently have to choose between bonding with newborns or paying the rent.

"Only 13 percent of women have access to any paid time off after they have children," says Lerner. "That means 87 percent of American women don't have paid leave. So what do they do when they have children?"

To find out, Lerner spent months following challenges faced by four new mothers. Lerner says for Natasha Long in Mississippi, back to work three weeks after giving birth, the hardest part was missed bonding time.

Long worked four to five 12-hour shifts a week, developed symptoms of depression and was prescribed antidepressants. Now three years old, Long's child still refuses to call her mama.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than one in five of the nation's top 10 percent of earners get paid family leave, compared to one in twenty earners in the bottom 25 percent.

Lerner points out in Sweden all mothers, regardless of income level, get 16 months paid leave. In Finland, she says in addition to nine months paid maternity time the mother or father can continue to receive paid time off until the child's third birthday.

"At this point, pretty much everyone else in the world does it differently," says Lerner. "We as a country aren't handling the situation well. It's not an individual problem, it's a national problem, it's a policy problem. And I do think that's how we'll solve it."

California, New York and New Jersey are the only states with paid family leave legislation on the books.

President Obama asked Congress to deliver a bill mandating seven days of paid leave in his 2015 State of the Union address. Senate Democrats responded with a bill that was rejected by Senate Republicans earlier this month.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA