President Barack Obama talked on several important topics last week in his annual State of the Union Address. In the address, he made it clear that issues that affect the middle class would be on the forefront of his agenda.
While many on opposite sides of the aisle in Congress disagree on this agenda, one thing is certain – it’s time for the U.S. to catch up and mandate paid maternity leave.
Women are no longer just cooking the bacon, they’re also helping to bring it home. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of women in the workforce has nearly quadrupled since 1967.
Through laws such as Title IX, many of the educational and social barriers that restricted women from entering the workforce have been knocked down, causing women to enter several markets.
From the retail industry to executive boardrooms, the impact that women have had on both the workforce and the national economy is undisputable. The Economist, a leading economic journal, predicted that by 2020, women could increase the GDP by 5 percent. This forecast is significantly higher for underdeveloped countries.
In addition to the major contributions women have made to the American economy, family dynamics within the home have also shifted dramatically.
According to a 2013 New York Times article, 40 percent of American households had a woman who was either the primary or the only source of income for the family.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has championed for pay equality in the workforce, said women are more important now than ever to the middle class.
Because of the financial importance women bring to the domestic and national tables, paid maternity leave is no longer just a moral issue, but also a financial one.
It is important to compensate women while on maternity leave, because they may be the primary breadwinners in their family.
Doing so can help ensure that women are not unfairly penalized for maternity leave, while helping to ensure the economic soundness of the family.
For years, the country has always tried to provide ways to protect economically those who are vulnerable to the markets. Sadly, however, the country lags behind in this category. America remains the only industrialized country that does not mandate paid maternity leave.
For many companies, it’s a matter of money, rather than morals. While many of the companies would love to offer their employees paid maternity leaves, they feel as though they simply cannot afford to. It is important to remember, however, that there are several options to consider when discussing paid maternity leave.
Not all countries enforce a 100 percent policy with regards to compensation for paid maternity leave, and America does not have to either.
Some countries require employers to pay only half of what employees would have made during the maternity leave.
The government mandating paid maternity leave could still leave the option open for certain plans, depending on the size of the business and the line of work.
Some make the argument that if America were to mandate paid maternity leave, they would have to do so for fathers as well. While a man does not go through the biological changes a woman does after childbirth, the father also needs a chance to bond with his new child.
It wouldn’t, therefore, hurt for Congress to consider offering paid paternity leave as some countries already do. Sweden, for example, offers 480 shared days between the parents, which they are allowed to use up until the child turns 8.
American economists are worried about the low number of babies being born in the United States as the fertility rate continues to drop every year.
This could be because many are not economically stable enough to take off work because of the financial burdens it could pose on the family.
Families often go into considerable amounts of medical and home improvement debts to cover the costs of having a baby. If the government were to mandate some type of paid maternity leave for employees, financial blows could be lessened, possibly causing an increase in the fertility rate.
America has one of the best economies in the world. In several instances, the country has led the way in many social and economic initiatives that led the way for change for the better.
But America takes a step to mandate paid maternity leave for mothers, it will continue to lag behind peer nations.