Paid maternity leave is vital for new parents
Mason Bennett, Science & Tech Editor
Ever since the introduction of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 2017, there has been much discussion about whether the plan is valid for economic and logistical reasons. While FMLA does provide some provisions for parents, it does not provide what other more progressive states offer for their working class. New York, for example, offers paid leave—up to 67 percent of the state average weekly wage—to almost all workers, including those at small businesses and government organizations. On the other hand, FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave only at large companies. While the benefits may seem obvious to some, there are misconceptions that have continuously prevented paid family leave policies from passing on a more widespread scale, such as ideas regarding organization’s profitability or the economy at large.
First, quality paid leave programs and policies encourage new parents to return to their companies, rather than taking time away from their careers or seeking organizations with better parental leave policies. One of the largest multimedia companies today, Google, reported a 50 percent increase in retention of new moms after they increased paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks. Furthermore, new parents can come back to work refreshed and ready to resume their duties, rather than returning not prepared or overwhelmed with new tasks. Likewise, a study done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that paid leave increases the likelihood that workers will return to work after childbirth, improves employee morale, has neutral or positive effects on workplace productivity, reduces costs to employers through improved employee retention and improves family incomes.
Since women are significantly more likely to return to their jobs after taking paid maternity leave, the economy overall receives a productivity boost from paid leave programs. More people return to work following childbirth and they do so with greater success. Additionally, overall women are 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps in the year following a child’s birth when they are able to take paid leave from work. This further contributes to the efficiency of the economy, putting less strain on government spending for national benefits.
Lastly, recent studies have correlated higher education and income levels to children whose mothers were afforded and took their paid maternity leave. Furthermore, that same study found that correlation to be strongest in lower income households, a group that is currently most neglected in parental leave policies. Setting aside the debates on whether having parents at home is beneficial to a child on an emotional level, there is still serious research to suggest that giving parents the ability to step back from work immediately following childbirth is great for kids. When parents are paid to remain at home following childbirth, infant mortality decreases while overall pediatric health significantly improves.
With time, a national paid leave program may be possible. However, even as new paid leave programs are established at all levels, no policy works in a vacuum. Future policies to subsidize high-quality, affordable childcare available at both standard and non-standard working hours would complement paid family leave. As work and families change, America as a robust working society must respond in many ways.