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Dina Bakst's picture

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that found that almost 51 percent of working women who gave birth to their first child between 2006 and 2008 received paid leave (which includes sick leave and vacation time), compared to 42% between 1996 and 2000.

While the new figures represent progress, it’s hardly time to cheer.  Over 49% of new mothers in the United States still do not have access to any form of paid parental leave.  The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that does not provide a statutory right to paid maternity leave. In fact, even counting developing nations, the U.S. is among only a handful of other countries that do not guarantee paid maternity leave, such as Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

Research has shown that paid family leave helps parents to recover from childbirth, bond with and care for newborns or newly adopted children, and better meet their children’s health needs. Access to paid family leave also increases the average duration of breastfeeding, which provides health benefits to newborn children and their mothers.

California has required employers to provide paid family leave to employees since 2002. A recent study showed that an overwhelming majority of California employers believe paid family leave has had a positive or neutral effect on their business operations, including productivity, profitability, turnover, and employee morale. The same report found that small businesses were actually less likely to report any negative effects on business operations.

In addition, the Census report reveals that access to paid leave is limited and is much less available for those who may need it the most.  Younger mothers, those working part time, and those without a high school diploma are far less likely to get paid leave than older and better educated women. In fact, 66% of women with bachelor’s degrees (or even more education) used paid leave for their pregnancies while only 18% of women with less than a high school education did the same. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the lack of paid leave, half of all women with less than a high school education quit their jobs for their pregnancies. This “benefit gap” between high and low-income women has increased over time. Five decades ago there was no relationship between education and paid leave access. As higher educated women have gained more and more access to paid leave, women with less than a high school education have stayed stagnant, at about 18% since the 1960’s.

For these new mothers who must quit their jobs, having a child frequently spells poverty. Paid leave is a critical tool to keep women in the workforce and off of public assistance programs that cost taxpayers more. It should not be a “benefit” reserved for educated, wealthy women, but instead a right for all women, especially those low-income workers who need it the most.

For information supporting paid leave efforts in New York, view our Paid Family Leave Fact Sheet.

Cross posted from A Better Balance blog.

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