Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let's Start With Family Leave Laws

It may be news to those without kids - and those who live outside California - that "maternity leave" is largely a fictional thing commonly found in movie scripts, TV show plots, or novels. In reality, our family-values valuing country more highly values its Protestant Work Ethic and its 401(k). You can have a child if you want - if you really think that's what's best for your team . . . at the office.

If you work for an employer employing fewer than 50 people (doesn't America also love small business above pretty much everything else/) you're legally entitled to nothing if you birth or adopt a child. Workers for larger employers can have a generous twelve weeks of unpaid leave.

Surely this leave is unpaid because this is a states' issue, right? I bet the states fill the gap in federal benefits.

Two do.

California and New Jersey.

Only two states, New Jersey and California, have leave programs that offer parents cash benefits, while Rhode Island, Hawaii, and New York provide some disability payments to new mothers. Meanwhile, Washington state, which passed a paid parental leave law but has so far been unable to pay for it, is in limbo. Without any income to keep them afloat during their time off, a substantial minority of those covered by the federal leave law don't wind up taking the leave to which they're entitled. Some 2.73 million workers surveyed over an 18-month period said they didn't take FMLA leave because they couldn't afford to, according to a 2000 Department of Labor study, the most recent of its kind. Besides those lucky enough to reside in the five states that provide any cash benefits, the only others who receive paid leave do so based on the generosity—or, perhaps, whim—of their employers. Indeed, that number is declining. In 2008, just 16 percent of employees were offered fully paid six-week maternity leaves, down from 27 percent about a decade ago, according to the Families and Work Institute, a New York-based nonprofit. And the number is likely falling further as the economy contracts.
Prior to taking leave myself, I assume most states offered some sort of paid benefit. California offers two kinds - first, it allows pregnant women to access temporary disability benefits after delivery (6 weeks of approximately 55% of your salary for vaginal delivery; 8 weeks for cesarean delivery) and second, it offers the Paid Family Leave Insurance Program (the same payments for an additional 6 weeks - which can be taken immediately after the disability period ends or any time during the child's first year). Four weeks of benefits prior to delivery are also covered.

In other states - good luck!

Perhaps what I find most depressing in all of this - more depressing than contemplating the number of legislator-fathers who I can only assume simply do not care about their wives' parental leave options - is my own American reaction. Well, I can't help but think, I am the one who chose to have a child. Why would that be anyone else's responsibility?

That's depressing because I'm a Democrat who loves social programs - I should know that they can't continue without a workforce and a workforce can't exist unless it's birthed.

We're going to hit this topic repeatedly. Consider this your quick-and-dirty intro.

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