There are some mothers who must return to work almost immediately after giving birth, women who just can't afford to take any unpaid time off – and my home state of Florida is failing them. But it's not just Florida — the sad truth is that millions of working mothers in this country find themselves without the support they need to care for their families and hold onto their jobs
Just in time for Mother's Day, The National Partnership for Women & Families has released the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and workplace rights for new parents in the United States.
Florida earned a big fat "D,” which is made worse by the fact that almost half our workforce is women. At least we're not one of the 18 states that earned an "F" for failing to provide a single benefit or program to help support families before and after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.
If you're a new parent, you should want to live in California. That's a state that treats its working parents with some respect.
In 2002, California became the first state to enact a paid family leave insurance program to help new parents and other family caregivers make ends meet when a new baby arrives or a family member becomes ill. The law took effect in July 2004. New parents in California can receive 55 percent of their income, up to a weekly capped amount, for up to six weeks. Private sector workers who qualify for the state’s disability insurance system are entitled to up to six weeks of paid family leave that can be used by either parent.
As a working mother, I want my home state to do better for its working parents. When 72 percent of Florida children live in families in which all parents work we need access to paid leave to paid sick days and workplace rights for nursing mothers.
Recently, I spoke to a teacher who went back to work after 5 1/2 weeks. She just couldn't afford to take any unpaid time off. She felt like she barely bonded with her new son. How sad is it that when these women gave birth, there's only a small chance they have any paid maternity leave! “The birth of a child should be a joyous event for new mothers and fathers, not the cause of financial hardship or devastation,” said National Partnership President Debra L. Ness.
There's some good news: Since the first edition of National Partnership's Expecting Better report, seven years ago, new parents have gained rights that address the work and family challenges.
- In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to pass a paid sick days law, joining the District of Columbia, in providing many workers the right to earn paid sick time that can be used to care for an ill child or family member or to seek medical care. Two cities — San Francisco and Seattle — also provide this right.
- In 2008, New Jersey joined California in establishing a paid family leave insurance program that provides new parents (and other family caregivers) with partial wage replacement during up to six weeks of family leave.
- In 2007, the state of Washington took a significant step toward establishing a paid parental leave program.
- In 2007, Maine expanded workers’ ability to take unpaid, job-protected family leave by recognizing that domestic or civil union partners often need to care for each other and each other’s children.
- And, from 2006 through 2009, nine states granted new rights to nursing mothers in the workplace.
“Some states are doing better for new parents than others,” explained Ness, “but most have a
long way to go…" Ness says Expecting Better paints a picture of a nation that is failing families — and it should be a wake-up call for lawmakers at every level
So, working parents, would paid leave have made a difference for your family? Would you be willing to tell your lawmakers how you feel about paid leave?