Bald eagles? Meh. Apple pie? You can get that at McDonalds in Europe. Jingoism? Ever seen the Olympics? Everyone's into that. If you're looking for the most quintessentially American trait, look no further than the way this country expects new mothers to pull themselves up by the umbilical cords.
According to the UN's survey of 185 countries, the good old US of A is one of two countries in the world that doesn't guarantee or require paid maternity leave (the other, for you trivia hounds, is Papua New Guinea). While high-paid women working corporate jobs that require college degrees may enjoy 6 or 12 weeks' paid at the grace of their employer (which still isn't a lot), middle- and lower-income women's options are limited to taking unpaid time off work, taking disability pay, going right back to work after their child is born in order to earn money to pay for often-expensive childcare, or leaving the workforce entirely. If a woman is a single mother, her options are even more limited, and the stakes are even higher. A lack of paid maternity leave disproportionately impacts women of color and the working poor, which is why people aren't losing their Congressional seats over it. Not Giving A Shit About Poor People is also an American tradition.
But, help may be on the way; Democratic legislators Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) have introduced legislation that will hopefully get things moving in a positive direction. Their proposal for nationwide paid maternity leave would set up a trust fund within the Social Security Administration designed to provide mothers with pay during the time they take off after the birth of a child, according to Bloomberg. This policy would give benefits currently available to women in states like California and Rhode Island to women across the country.
Required paid maternity leave would help American women in a few ways, besides the obvious "paying for basic needs" piece. First, paid maternity leave would increase women's workforce participation, which in recent years has grown sluggishly thanks to the giant speed bump having children places in the paths of many women's career advancement. Contrary to the popular Reagan-era myth of the welfare queen, many women forced out of the workforce after having children would return to work if it were economically feasible for them to do so, because a lot of people find dignity and value in working. Secondly — and here's a reason that people who call themselves "pro-life" should be into this — according to Guttmacher, 73% of women who have abortions say that economic impact of childbearing played a big factor in choosing to end their pregnancies. A full 21% of women who have abortions say they're having an abortion in part because they "can't leave [their] job to have a baby." If paid maternity leave would ostensibly lesson the economic and career impact of childbirth, we can probably surmise that at least some women who would otherwise terminate would instead choose to carry their pregnancies to term. And I think people from both sides of the abortion debate can agree that women should not have to base reproductive decisions on something as cruel as an unfair system, and unsympathetic boss.
It seems like a no-brainer that pregnancy should not put women in the difficult position of choosing between a child and being able to provide for their basic needs, but whether our 80% male legislative branch agrees remains to be seen.
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