Maternity Leave in the U.S. Sucks. Is Ivanka Going to Save Us?


Last week, it was announced that India will be doubling its maternity leave from three months to six months in efforts to encourage more women to join the workforce. Makes sense, right? If you want more women to have jobs, making it possible for them to work and have a family seems like a no-brainer. Alas, the U.S. never got that memo.

A quick primer on our thoroughly shitty mat-leave policies, ICYMI: The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates an employer give you 12 weeks of unpaid leave if you work in a company with 50 or more employees. That’s the only federally-mandated requirement, meaning your employer is required to let you set an auto-response to the tune of “Cleaning vomit off my shoulder right now, so may be slow to respond!” on your Gmail for three months and give you your job back after that, but if you’d like to keep feeding yourself and your newborn in the interim, he’s also at liberty to tell you to get creative.

Of course, companies can choose to be more accommodating and supportive, but in 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 13% of workers had access to paid family leave, and you can bet that not all of them are as generous as Google, who provides five months of leave with full pay and full benefits. A whopping three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—have additional laws in place that provide better benefits to new parents; for instance, California’s Paid Family Leave Program generally allows you to access disability insurance for up to four weeks before your due date and six weeks after at a rate of about half your salary. (But yeah, you read that subtext correctly: pregnancy is considered a disability.)

South Korea, Japan, the Czech Republic, Austria and Denmark all offer new mothers a year or more of paid leave. So what’s our deal? Why do we suck so much at providing support to new parents? The short answer is that it’s expensive, and conservatives in particular aren’t fans of raising taxes to pay for it. It’s been an issue President Obama advocated for on numerous occasions during his presidency, and yet we remain the only advanced country that doesn’t provide paid leave.

The elephant in the womb right now? Before winning the election, Donald Trump proposed six weeks of paid maternity leave, which is a stark departure from standard GOP feels on the issue (Hillary’s proposal, by contrast, was 12 weeks, which would only put the U.S. at third-worst amongst developed countries). His stance is largely attributed to his daughter Ivanka’s influence, despite allegations that maternity leave policies at her own company left a lot to be desired. Reports from last week suggest new dads could also be included in the new policy. We’ll see how the proposal will ultimately fare; this is the same president who’s trying to take an axe to Meals on Wheels and Sesame Street, after all, and despite Ivanka's alleged sway over her father, too much has already been overlooked for her to go down as a progressive feminist hero (or y'know, a feminist period). Meanwhile, the news cycle today was peppered with he-said she-saids about whether Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said working women take advantage of maternity leave by quitting right afterward.

We’ll see, indeed.

-Deena Drewis

Deena DrewisComment