The United States of America, Palau, Nauru, Tonga, Micronesia, Marshal Islands, Suriname: these countries are exceptional in one way. Of the 190 countries in the United Nations, they are the only ones that do not guarantee paid time off for new parents.
Almost all of humanity, more than seven billion people worldwide, have better leave support than new parents in the U.S. The global average for paid maternity leave is 29 weeks. One hundred fifty-eight countries offer 12 weeks or more of paid family leave. It is almost universal.
The World Health Organization recommends at least six months of breastfeeding, which is facilitated by paid leave and provides many health benefits to mothers and babies, including reduced infant mortality, diarrhea, and pneumonia, as well as reduced breast cancer in mothers.
Studies suggest that spending more time at home immediately after birth has health and social benefits for infants. Research demonstrates that the prenatal-to-3 age period lays the foundation for children’s cognitive and emotional development. It is critical that infants and toddlers receive nurturing, responsive care and engage in stimulating interactions to help their brains grow during this sensitive period. These positive interactions typically occur first at home with parents in early infancy. Still, many parents return to work soon after a child’s birth because of their financial needs.
Just six weeks of paid leave leads to improvements in children’s physical health and safety, both in infancy and longer-term: increases in timely vaccinations, improved maternal mental health, and increased parent-child activities together, including reading and meals.
The International Labor Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention states that all countries, regardless of income, should guarantee women a minimum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Yet here, in the wealthiest country in the world, the U.S. remains one of only a few countries in the world without any national paid family leave policy and the only high-income country without one. Many parents are forced to leave their newborns within days after delivery or risk losing their jobs.
The American Sustainable Business Council website says “Opponents claim this bill would be bad for business; but in fact, passing (it) would let more businesses reduce turnover costs and level the playing field for responsible employers – and help make American families stronger and healthier. High-road employers know from experience that paid leave is key to higher employee morale and a reliably productive workplace… States that have already enacted paid leave have found the law both popular with voters and helpful to business…As business leaders, we know that providing paid family leave is good for business and we believe it is good for our country.”
Experts say that six months of paid leave for mom and six months for dad would be ideal, combined with paid sick leave.
Paid family leave will result in a stronger economy with a 10-12% gain in GDP, according to Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, because it promotes gender parity in the workforce. The public expenditure in developed countries is one one-hundredth of that. The cost is less than one-tenth of one percent of GDP in Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland. That is a huge return on a minuscule investment. Paid family leave is good for mothers, babies, families, employers, and the country.
If your family would benefit from Paid Family Leave, call your congressman and our two U.S. Senators. Tell them your story. They want to hear from you.
Marie Ricketts is a member of the Stonington Town Democratic Committee.