It’s no secret that the United States lags behind even the poorest and more corrupt countries when it comes to paid leave. The United States is one of the three countries in the world which does not offer paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Act, passed under the Clinton administration, was the first step in the right direction for family leave, providing workers with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a child or sick relative. However, this pales in comparison to what other countries do for their workers who need some time off for extenuating circumstances.
According to the Atlantic's Sharon Lerner, even one of the most poor and corrupt nations in the world — the Democratic Republic of the Congo — offers its women 14 weeks of paid leave when a baby is on its way. Our neighbors to the north have shamed us as well; Canada boasts 15 weeks of paid maternity leave, with an alternate option of 35 weeks of paid leave shared by both parents. Lerner, a senior fellow at Demos, also presents us with a simple but powerful realization: Many workers can potentially bring on their own financial ruin by taking time off to care for an ill relative or new baby.
As much as it may seem that all political parties are in favor of family leave (“voters from both parties want family and medical leave” according to Lerner’s article), the road to reform might be a rocky one.
Doling more public funds out to the people might be difficult given the current economic situation, as well as the approach of the fiscal cliff. There are also the perspectives of different parties we have to consider. Conservatives might think that new parental leave provisions are an extension of government power, which may be needed, but would cause the government to become a behemoth in the process. In contrast, liberals might champion the idea that this reform is a long-time coming, and there would be no better time to implement such reform as now. And libertarians might wonder why we are bothering to involve the government in the people’s lives yet again.
Then there is the question of moderation: how much reform is too much? How much should we pay for?
New Jersey and California have made changes that allow for some paid time off to workers. Perhaps other states will soon join in. Parental leave as an issue for conservatives, liberals, independents, libertarians, and those of other political backgrounds to consider their beliefs in such a personal context. According to babycenter.com, just over 4 million babies are born in the United States each year. The U.S. Census data also shows that this year, 18% of Americans have some sort of disability. Everyday, normal Americans are the ones who must care for children and the disabled, displaying American values of strength and resilience.
It is now up to us to determine how we wish to help them, and ourselves.