The Embarrassing Lack of Parental Leave in America

The Embarrassing Lack of Parental Leave in America

Rachel CohenMonday,11 January 2016

This week New York City announced it would be providing paid maternity and paternity leave for new parents who are one of the city’s 20,000+ employees. Now these employees will be eligible for six weeks of paid leave, and up to twelve weeks of total leave when accounting for additional time off.

Seems…reasonable? What’s amazing is that it has taken this step for many people to realize the serious issue our country has with paid parental leave.

In 1996, current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote her book, It Takes a Village. I didn’t read it (at 13 I probably would have preferred her next book, Dear Socks, Dear Buddy,) but to this day I remember learning about what the title meant. Sure, my parents raised me in my immediate home, but there was also my school, activities for after-school, community groups, playgrounds, children’s books, parent’s friends, bus drivers, security guards, pediatricians, etc. who in one way or another contributed to my ability to survive and develop as a person.

I didn’t even realize how much Hillary’s book title informed my own ideas (she’s part of the village!) until starting to discuss paid maternity leave and finding how often I repeat her titular phrase.

Paid parental leave is our duty as a village. Isn’t there some other saying about how time is the most important thing you can give your children? Oh look, here’s an example from Rick Warren, evangelical preacher who this week joined Marco Rubio’s religious advisory board: “That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.”

Interestingly, Rubio actually is the only GOP president who has a “plan” for paid leave; in true Republican fashion, it revolves around giving businesses tax incentives to do the right thing and allow their employees fair leave. And as we all know, tax incentives always work out…oh, wait.

To be fair, at least Rubio acknowledges the need for family leave. That alone sets him apart from the 7,000 other GOP candidates who have stayed mum (or worse, opened their mouths).

The issue is obviously far more present on the Democratic side of things, with both Sanders and Clinton arguing for the need for paid leave. At least on this issue Clinton has been fairly consistent – in addition to her book, she supported Bill’s 1993’s FMLA act (still the one being used because nothing has changed in 23 years.)

So why now? Why focus on this issue at all when there are so many other things to worry about like Santorum’s concern that women going to college is making it harder for young men?

Because it’s embarrassing that we aren’t. It’s embarrassing that we are one of three countries in the world with no federal maternity leave. It’s pretty hard to stand up on a stage and say America is the greatest country in every way when we have the same policies as Papua New Guinea and Suriname, the other countries who join us on the list.

Because right now, only about 12% of Americans have access to paid maternity leave. Because 396 anti-abortion laws were proposed around the country in 2015. Because you can’t go on and on about the importance of family and then prevent families from being together.

Because it’s time.

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Image Credit: Shane Adams on Flickr

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