The President of the United States has made it one of his chief goals to help America’s working families. He wants to bring the U.S. up to date by making sure that working parents are guaranteed paid maternity and paternity leave. Not only will this help the economy, but it will help close the gender pay gap.
At present the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of guaranteed paid maternity leave. In fact, the U.S. is among only three countries in the world that admit to not offering any guaranteed paid maternity leave. And out of the 34 so called developed countries in the world, it is one of only two which do not offer guaranteed paternity leave of any kind.
The President has described the current situation as something out of an episode of the 1960’s themed television show ‘Mad Men’, because of how chauvinistic the current policies are. He wants to bring the U.S. into the 21st century where it belongs with the rest of the industrialised world. One of the primary reasons for this move is because the traditional role of a single breadwinner household no longer exists. Most households are either single parents or have two working parents. The President recognises this and wants to help this new generation. “Many jobs don’t offer adequate leave to care for a new baby or an ailing parent, so workers can’t afford to be there when their family needs them the most. That’s wrong. And it puts us way behind the times.”
What protection is already in place
Currently the U.S. only has one government policy to help working families, The Family Medical Leave Act. This policy which only actually provides women with up to 12 weeks unpaid maternity leave is seen as inadequate. It also only applies to full time workers so it only covers 40% of the workforce. There are some U.S. states and companies such as Google, however, that have introduced their own paid maternity leave policies and have had extremely positive results. A study of 1000 U.S. companies found that 58% offered some form of paid maternity leave. In fact, after Google increased their paid maternity leave from three months to five months and made it fully paid, the number of new mothers leaving the company fell by 50%. This had positive effects for Google as it meant they did not have to recruit or train new staff to replace them. According to President Obama: “A few states have acted on their own to give workers paid family leave, but this should be available to everyone, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for a family member in need.”
As long as men are unable to take paid paternity leave, the stereotype of men being the sole or main bread winner of the family will continue. It will also allow men to continue to enhance their careers, while women take time off to raise children. The same study that found 58% of companies were offering paid paternity leave, found only 14% were offering paid maternity leave.
Will it bridge the gender gap?
The President has made many claims about trying to help women and working families, but he has not tried to pass any new legislation yet. So it is still unclear exactly how he is going to fund or implement his ideas. Also, countries which have quite extensive paid maternity and paternity leave programs such as the United Kingdom, which allows up to 52 weeks of maternity and 2 weeks of paternity leave respectively, still have a gender pay gap. Women earn on average £5,000 less than men in the UK. Although child rearing and maternity/paternity leave are some of the causes of the pay gap, the exact cause is still unknown.
Any legislation that is passed to implement paid maternity or paternity leave will be progressive and help move the U.S. into the 21st century, but it is unlikely to significantly narrow the gender pay gap despite the best intentions.