The cost of unpaid maternity leave

June 1, 2015

40 percent of US households rely on income from working mothers, making paid maternity leave important


The cost of unpaid maternity leave

12 weeks of leave without pay: that's what working mothers with newborns are entitled to under the Family Medical Leave Act. That's a far cry from what the rest of the world offers its working mothers. In Fact, Countries like Germany, Russia and Japan offer paid maternity leave of one year or more. Even the less developed economies of the world offer some form of paid maternity leave to their working mothers. The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't - putting it in the company of little Suriname on the coast of South America and Papua New Guinea on the other side of the world. Now, states are free to enact their own workplace laws and regulations that go above and beyond federal regulations. But only three - Rhode Island, New Jersey and California - mandate paid maternity leaves that vary between 4 and 6 weeks in length. The programs are funded by payroll taxes. For the rest of the country, limits in the federal law whittle down the number of women who stand to benefit from even unpaid maternity leave. For example, Private employers with less than 50 workers on their payrolls aren't even obligated to offer leave at all. This is why you should care: 70 percent of women today with children under 18 work in the labor force. Working mothers are either the sole breadwinners, or at least the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households across the U.S. American women are now an incredibly potent engine in the workforce driving this country's economic growth. Yet, the laws and regulations on the books governing women in the workplace are stuck in a time warp. Women aren't staying home anymore - even if they wanted to, many can't afford to. And both men and women are balancing family responsibilities with work responsibilities. You wouldn't know that from our workplace laws, though.


Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter