Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How Much Would You Pay for Paid Maternity Leave?

Last week, the New Jersey State Senate approved legislation that would grant employees paid maternity or dependent-care leave, making New Jersey one of only three states in the US to pay workers who need time off to care for a new child or a sick relative.

Kudos to New Jersey, but it's still a far cry from the norm in the rest of the industrialized world.

Did you know that the United States and Australia are the only two industrialized countries in the world that do not offer paid leave to new mothers? And moms in the Outback have a sweeter deal than we do; in Australia, your job is protected for a year, but in the United States new working moms only get that guarantee for 12 weeks. In fact, according to a 2005 article by the Associated Press, "...out of 168 nations in a Harvard University study last year, 163 had some form of paid maternity leave, leaving the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland."

Yes, you read that correctly.

But there is hope, at least in New Jersey. According to the New York Times article, "Those taking the leave would be eligible for two-thirds of their salary, up to a maximum of $524 a week, for six weeks." That's less than the $917 per week California offers, but is more than twice what Washington State allows. Similar legislation has stalled out in New York, but the New York bill only offered $170 a week, so even if it had passed it might not have been much of a help to workers in urban areas. (Come on... realistically speaking, $170 might make a difference in, say, Cayuga County, but it's a drop in the bucket if you live in The Bronx.)

The New Jersey bill still has to pass the state assembly, but it is expected to later this week, and Governor Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign it into law.

Kind of makes me wish I had moved back to my home state before I had my kids. Or, maybe, to Finland. Or France.

The United States' Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, only requires companies with 50 or more people to grant "elegible employees" 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their newborns during a 12-month period -- and if the employee has complications during her pregnancy that require her to miss work, that time off can count as part of the 12-week leave.

Let's compare that to the standards in other countries, shall we?

Canada: New moms get up to 17 weeks of pregnancy leave at 55-percent pay; new moms and dads can split up to 35 weeks of paid parental leave.

France: New moms are entitled to a fully paid, job-protected, mandatory maternity leave starting six weeks before the baby's birth and extending to 10 weeks after, plus an additional paid leave for either the mom or the dad until the child's third birthday, if needed. Not your first baby? The amount of leave to which you're entitled increases with the birth of each child.

Germany: Fourteen weeks of job-protected maternity leave at 100-percent pay.

Finland: New moms are entitled to 18 weeks of maternity leave at 70-percent pay, with an additional 26-week parental leave available to either parent, also at 70-percent pay.

Japan: Six to 10 weeks of prenatal leave, plus eight weeks of post-natal leave, all at 60-percent pay.

Why are we so far behind the curve in this? There are several interesting theories. Some say that American feminism has focused on equal rights, not on maternity rights; others point out that, post World War II, other countries put into place incentives to encourage population growth that the US didn't want or need; still others assume that American companies simply aren't willing to foot the bill, especially not the way our economy looks right now.

The New Jersey bill is being paid for by other employees, not by the companies. According to the New York Times article, the measure would be financed by employee payroll deductions that would cost every worker in New Jersey a maximum of 64 cents a week, or $33 a year.

If you go to Starbucks and buy a latte once a week, you spend about $160 a year. Isn't paid maternity leave worth $33 to people in the other 47 states?

Assuming you didn't live in California or Washington, how did you manage your maternity leave?

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