Being an activist is not exactly in my DNA. While I think I have a strong sense of what is right and wrong, I have an open mind and always try and see both sides of the story, which oftentimes makes it difficult to take a strong enough stance that I am willing to spend my limited free time fighting for something. Or maybe I am just selfish or lazy, but for whatever reason, “activist” is not on my résumé.
There is, however, a few issues I feel very strongly about and one is particularly timely today as Andy goes back to work, maternity/paternity leave. Quite frankly in the United States, our policies SUCK. Sure, great we have the Family Medical Leave Act that ensures you don’t LOSE YOUR JOB for 12 weeks but it does not ensure a paid leave of any kind. I came across this article from the Huffington Post last week on twitter of which I will pull a few quotes.
At least 178 countries have national laws requiring paid leave for new moms (and many also do for new dads.)
In just three <countries> … there is definitely no law on paid leave for new moms: the United States, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.
Paid leave programs have positive results for businesses, economies, and public health. A study of 19 developed countries found that paid parental leave had a greater positive effect on productivity than unpaid leave, and predicted that instituting 15 weeks of paid maternity leave in countries without it (like the U.S.) would increase multi-factor productivity by 1.1 percent.
For businesses, paid leave helps retain employees and avoid turnover costs. One study found that 94 percent of leave-takers who received full pay returned to the same employer, compared with 76 percent of those with no pay.
Paid leave is also good for public health, and for containing health care costs. Paid and sufficiently long leaves for new moms are associated with lower infant mortality, lower risk of postpartum depression, higher rates of immunization for babies, and higher breastfeeding rates.
A 2011 study on the California program (California and New Jersey are the only two states with paid leave programs), funded exclusively by worker contributions, found that employers overwhelmingly report positive or neutral effects of the program on productivity, profitability, turnover, and employee morale.
Now that I have reprinted almost the entire article, it’s probably clear that this is one of few issues I get fired up on.
As I wrote almost two years ago, we learned from Andy’s Norwegein friend that Norway’s policies on maternity and paternity leave are such that between the two parental leaves combined, they get nearly a PAID year off of work. They have recently increased the amount of paternity leave so employers will be less inclined to favor hiring a man, since women have the potential of needing to take maternity leave. I believe they said with each child the woman gets nearly seven months maternity leave followed by nearly four months of paternity leave for the man. Then, after that is over, they have laws about how to reintroduce the child to daycare. The first day, they just take the baby there for an hour and then leave with the baby, just to get the child used to the new environment. Then, the next couple of days, they leave them for two hours and then pick them up. This easing in process lasts two to three weeks and the time the woman is away from work during this time is again, paid.
Amazing huh? Yet another example of where the United States, often the icon of developed, advanced nations is far inferior in social programs.
And yes, true to my nature, I can see both sides to this issue. It does cause a lot of additional effort for business owners to hire a replacement while the mother or father of a newborn is on leave. I think traditionally people think it is also a lot of cost to the company, but if instituted in such a way as referenced in the Huffington article (like California and New Jersey), employees pay into a fund to cover this cost so it is no additional cost to the employer.
I guess the other reason I am not an activist is because I get to this point in my argument and it feels like there is nothing I can do. My recommendation is to write your congress(wo)man if you agree with this post, but I have done that on numerous occasions and despite their best efforts to not send a totally generic response, they send a totally generic response making me wonder if there is any prayer they have heard my message and even less likely, will try and do something about it. It’s worth the try though if it means my daughters do not have to move to Norway to experience what maternity/paternity leave, in my humble opinion, SHOULD BE!
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