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Paid maternity leave still on the wishlist for many U.S. mothers

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Snapshot for May 7, 2008.

Paid maternity leave still on the wishlist for many U.S. mothers

by Heidi Shierholz and Emily Garr

This Mother’s Day, we reflect on the critical but often overlooked issue of maternity leave. In a selection of 19 countries with comparable per capita income, the United States provides the fewest maternity leave benefits in both length of leave and paid time off (see chart). This is considered separate from any disability insurance for which one may qualify. In fact, the United States falls two weeks short of the International Labor Organization’s basic minimum standard of at least 14 weeks general leave. It is also the only country not to guarantee some amount of leave with income.

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Maternity leave benefits (in weeks), 19 countries

The United States passed the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, giving eligible parents 12 weeks unpaid leave to care for a new child. But aside from being unpaid, it is limited to workplaces of more than 50 employees, which excludes more than 41.3% of working Americans, or about 48.1 million people.1

On May 2, New Jersey became the third state in the country to pass legislation that would provide at least some degree of paid family leave (following California and Washington). Most recently at the federal level, the Family Leave Insurance Act of 2008 (H.R. 5873) was introduced in April to provide paid leave to care for a new child and to cover workplaces with fewer than 50 employees. Policies that guarantee adequate leave are increasingly valuable not only for working families, but also for employers, who benefit from the retention of skilled personnel in the workplace and improved employee morale.

Look for more comparisons between the United States and its global peers in the upcoming biennial release of The State of Working America 2008/2009, which will be released by the Economic Policy Institute on Labor Day, September 1, 2008.

Grant, Jodi, Taylor Hatcher, and Narali Patel. 2005. Expecting Better: A State by State Analysis of Parental Leave Programs. Washington, D.C.: National Partnership for Women and Families.

Heymann, Jody, Alison Earle, and Jeffery Hayes. 2007. Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the United States Measure Up? Cambridge, Mass: Project on Global Working Families, Harvard University.

OECD Family Database. 2006/2006. Babies and BossesReconciling Work and Family Life (Vol. 5): A Synthesis of Findings for OECD Countries. <>.

1. Census Bureau (2005) County Business Patterns.

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