As the economy continues to run frantically around the house looking for its wallet, keys, and cell phone even though it's already half an hour late, employers are trying to cut corners in order to stay afloat. One of the easiest corners to cut, it turns out, has been in providing maternity benefits to female employees. It's gotten so bad that now, nearly half of women must take unpaid time off after giving birth.
This crappy statistic has another depressing dimension to it. Women with low levels of education (no high school diploma) are four times more likely than their more educated (college degreed) peers to have no paid maternity leave. There's always been a gap between benefits offered to college educated women versus their high school diploma-less counterparts, but in the last decade, that gap has widened significantly. According to the US Census Bureau, which compiled the statistics, the gap between the 66% of college degreed women who can use paid maternity leave versus the 18% of women with low levels of education with the same luxury is the biggest it's ever been.
According to the Washington Post, women with lower levels of education tend to have higher birth rates, thus the women who could actually use maternity leave the most don't have it available to them.
Some analysts think that the reason for this increase in benefits disparity may be due to the way that jobs were slashed during the recession. Over the course of the last few years, many mid-income jobs have been cut. Now that we're technically in "recovery," employers aren't replacing mid-level jobs; employers are instead hiring part time employees for lower pay and reduced benefits to save on expenses or just asking their remaining employees to pick up the slack, which they do, because everyone's terrified of getting fired.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was passed in 1993, mandates that companies with over 50 employees allow workers to take up to 12 weeks' unpaid leave in order to care for babies or sick family members without being fired. Unlike most developed countries, there is no national paid maternity leave program in the US, and efforts to introduce such a program have been met with staunch conservative resistance. FML indeed.