The NYTimes Bucks Blog is putting together a chart on the parental leave policies at big employers in the U.S. Some of it is pretty fascinating, like Fannie Mae differentiating time off for vaginal birth versus C-section, plus a bonus of 20 days of “bonding leave.” They are still waiting to get some information on other employers, like Wal-Mart.
Let’s remind ourselves that the U.S. is the only country with an “advanced economy” to not have comprehensive paid parental leave. The chart below from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and cited in this Center for American Progress report, demonstrates this point, even though it’s just as easy to say with words: nada, nothing, none, no paid leave.
We have the Family Medical Leave Act, which provides some basic rights to leave from work, but doesn’t legislate any pay for necessary time off for family leave. Furthermore, many types of work in our modern economy are not be covered by the FMLA. A lot of this work tends to be precarious in nature, like free lance work, temporary work, or under-the-table work. According to the experts referenced on Bucks, 40% of workers are not eligible to take family medical leave.
Looking at different company policies is a good start to envisioning what the current climate is and how vastly it can change from employer to employer, but the NYTimes’ effort to make public the leave policies at big employers leaves out an important sector of the labor market: low wage workers. According to this Department of Labor chart, there is a negative correlation between pay level and the FMLA covering a person. Arguably, those workers who are lower paid anyway would need access to parental leave, especially paid parental leave, more since they cannot afford to contract out this necessary work by hiring nannies and domestic workers.
So any serious discussion of changes to our current family policy needs to particular attention to low-wage workers – those who are already left out of the FMLA and are undoubtedly at risk for being looked over in similar legislation that would actually provide paid time off.
Without comprehensive policy to provide for working families in the event of a new family member either by birth or adoption, workers, particularly women workers, are deterred from investing in their careers and maintaining their working lives after children if career interruptions result in big losses of income. Therefore these low-wage workers are more likely to remain low-wage workers. This not only decreases their lifetime income in a real way, but it’s also a disadvantage to our economy when people, again primarily women, aren’t able to contribute as much as they are able to and would like to. Paid parental leave for all workers is good social and economy policy.