Much of Europe has it—Sweden, France, Spain, Germany, England, Russia and Italy, too. Even small countries, such as Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Latvia and Cyprus, have it. And beyond Europe, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea, China, New Zealand and Mexico all provide it. But not the United States.
Twenty-five years to the day after the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA),which granted unpaid leave for many workers, became law on Feb. 5, 1993, little more progress has been won. The U.S. remains the only developed nation that does not mandate any paid leave.
Only four states in the entire country—California, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey—have paid leave laws. In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that just 13 percent of private sector workers and 19 percent of state government workers had access to paid family leave in 2016. According to a 2015 report published by In These Times magazine, nearly one in four mothers, many of them low-wage workers, return to their jobs within just two weeks of giving birth.
Study after study highlights the importance of paid leave for women and their employers. For many women, paid maternity leave means not having to choose between having a career and having a family—and when women have access to paid maternal leave, they are more likely to return their previous jobs. Just as paid parental leave can improve a mother’s health, the nation’s economic health stands to benefit from such policies, since higher labor force participation allows the economy to expand.
When paid leave is extended to men, it also further promotes gender equality. Research shows that when men take time off around childbirth, they are more likely to continue to be involved in caretaking activities later in the child’s life—which leads to a more equal division of childcare between partners.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) today declared that paid leave would let women “reach their full economic potential” in a video made as part of a new digital campaign by the National Partnership for Women and Families launched for the FMLA’s anniversary. “It means that women can be with their loved ones when they need to be but still be able to bring home the resources they need for their families. Paid leave means to me financial security.”
“I was able to take family leave when my daughter was born, and she was sick, I didn’t think she was gonna be sick—but she was,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Mich.) shared in her own video for the campaign. “And it made a big difference for us that we had some paid family leave. I think all families should have that.”
People from across the U.S. are sharing similar stories about what #PaidLeaveMeans to them, their families and their communities in short videos as part of the campaign. In one, a man named Paul holds up a photo of four young children. “To me, paid leave means not having to choose between my job and my family,” he tells viewers. “I can be the husband and father to these cute kids at a time when they need me most.”
“Paid leave means to me that I can be a good daughter,” a woman named Julia said in one video. “It means I can be there for my mom when she needs to recover from surgery, so that she can recover with dignity. Paid leave means that I can also care for myself when I need to seek medical treatment without worrying about hurting my career or not being able to pay the medical bills. Paid leave for me means dignity.”
Maura Turcotte is an editorial intern at Ms.