While the United States is developed in many respects, such as technology and higher education, the U.S. falls behind in ensuring women have the most basic rights: to give birth to and raise their children. The United States is one of only three countries in the world that does not guarantee paid leave for new mothers. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, qualifying parents in the U.S. are able to receive 12 weeks off, but the time is not necessarily paid.
Only 12 percent of American companies offer paid time off. By contrast, paid maternity leave for new mothers is guaranteed for qualifying mothers in France for up to 16 weeks at 100 percent of their salaries. Many other European countries offer similar benefits and have more comprehensive policies. California is one of four states with a mandatory paid leave program, under which anyone who is taking care of a newborn, foster child, adopted child or ill family member can receive six weeks of wages at a reduced level. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, 90 percent of people affected by California’s programs had a positive experience or saw improvement in their lives. Furthermore, states with paid family leave programs saw a decline in those needing public assistance.
The idea that women can or cannot “have it all” should not be debated — women should be able to have both children and a career. Women cannot be fired for getting pregnant or taking legal leave, but they do not necessarily have to be paid. Living without a wage for an extended period of time is not productive in any scenario, especially when trying to raise a child. Moreover, work-life balance is improved when paid leave is offered. Single parents should not be expected to take 12 weeks off of work without pay.
The alternative to paid leave is to go on welfare, which is paid for by taxpayers. Working mothers are not lacking as mothers in comparison to stay-at-home moms and should not be penalized for wanting a career.
Companies that value the women they hire should want their employees to be able to have children and continue with their work. Childcare is an obstacle for many families, especially because it is not affordable. Expecting women to stay at home and take care of the kids while the husband goes to work puts society back 75 years. Working parents need flexibility.
Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale, New York. SHe is a Senior Columnist. Follow Kashar on Twitter @LeahKashar.