Tabata Gordillo / Mustang News

Abbie Lauten-Scrivner is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.

Go ahead and ask anyone which country they think is the most commanding in the world. My bet is they will say the United States. In terms of industrialization, military and general global influence, this country is consistently ranked at the top of many lists. Yet despite boasting to be a developed and modern nation, the U.S. continues to be shamefully ranked at the bottom of a list that directly impacts American families. When it comes to treatment of parents requiring family leave, the U.S. is dead last.

We are one of only two developed countries that does not mandate any paid leave to parents. Although some workers are granted 12 weeks of unpaid leave, almost half of American workers do not actually meet the qualifications for this time off. To qualify, one must be employed at a workplace with at least 50 other employees, or within the public or private school system for at least one year. Of those who do qualify, many cannot support their families without 12 weeks of pay.

A mere 12 weeks is below the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) minimum recommendation of 14 weeks. No other developed country has a leave time as short. And before we hand the U.S. a participation trophy for almost reaching the bare minimum, I should mention that the ILO also advises that parents receive two thirds of their original paycheck during leave, paid for by the state or Social Security. The U.S. is the only developed nation that fails to meet any of these suggestions.

The current family leave model puts businesses first, at the expense of parents. There is a misconception that by breaking away from the trend set by the rest of the developed world, we are somehow being savvy and strategic. The U.S. has this idea that every other country is wasting its money on requiring superfluous handouts and that by not requiring paid leave, we are helping businesses prosper efficiently, which in turn will help the parents who work there to prosper as well.

This delusion about the nature of efficiency ignores the insurmountable collection of evidence in favor of paid parental leave. As seen in the three progressive states who have implemented paid family leave insurance (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island), Abbie Lauten-Scrivner is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News. profit and productivity rise when parents receive this benefit.

This mirrors results in every other developed country: both employers and families benefit from a strategy of paid family leave. Countries that employ such a policy save money through higher rates of worker retention, less need for temporary workers and decreased cost of training new workers. Worker morale and employee reputation increase as well. People want to work for an employer that values the crucial time parents need to recover from pregnancy and bond with their new baby. Additionally, most employers who have independently offered paid family leave have done so without taking a financial
hit themselves.

For parents, paid leave guarantees the chance to settle in to their changed life without fear of becoming financially unstable. It encourages both parents to bond with their new baby. Evidence shows that more parental attention towards infants makes the entire family happier and healthier. Countless studies show how paid family leave is directly linked to less postpartum depression, lower infant mortality, increased breastfeeding and stronger family ties.

The current approach towards family leave in the U.S. is cold and neglectful. It forces parents to choose between a paycheck and their child. In most 21st century families, both parents work full-time jobs to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. A new baby means significantly higher expenses. If both parents work to keep their family afloat, they must put their child in the hands of a nanny or daycare at least five days a week. While these services are extremely helpful, complete reliance upon them for extended time causes both parents to lose priceless bonding time. This current state forces a decision between supporting new children emotionally
or financially.

Another approach forces one parent to stay at home and claim the bulk of responsibility around raising the child. The other takes on the role of provider and misses out on hours of time with their new baby. In traditional households, the mother is typically the one  forced to put her career on hold. This creates a trap that makes it that much more difficult for a woman in the workplace to advance her career.

My mother’s career was one of many unpaid-parental leave casualties. The day I was born effectively ended my mother’s long-time profession as a social worker. My mom adored her job; it had been her dream career since high school. But when she had me at age 42, she was forced to quit. Unable to afford a nanny or daycare five days a week, someone had to stay home and raise me. Since my dad made more money, that responsibility fell squarely on my mom’s shoulders. When I got older and my mother was ready to return to work, she had to begin with low-paying service jobs far below her skill level. Because of her age and extended hiatus from work, it took her years to break into an actual career again.

By not properly caring for American families, this country is hurting itself while every other industrialized nation is moving forward. Parenthood in the U.S. should not be a threat to one’s career. It is time for this country to do better so that Americans like my mom have the freedom to be both a doting parent and a thriving professional.

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