This is a step in the right direction. New legislation is being proposed in Washington D.C., and if it goes through, it could mean 11 weeks of paid leave for parents.
Newly proposed legislation in Washington D.C. could set an unprecedented standard in the US. A coalition of close to 200 businesses and advocacy groups are pushing for a better paid family leave law.
This month, the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 was introduced to the D.C. city council. Under this bill, families would have 11 weeks of paid parental leave for both parents after the birth of a child or the adoption or fostering of a child. It also includes eight weeks of paid caregiving leave for a sick, injured or dying loved one, and up to 90% pay replacement for low-income workers on medical leave. The cost would be offset by a 0.62% employer-paid payroll tax increases, and as a result, 65% of D.C.'s residents would be covered.
It's no secret that the US is behind of much of the industrialized world in terms of paid parental leave. Other countries recognize the health benefits to parents and children when they are given time to bond and adjust, but so far, ours has not been prompted to make serious changes. Women report lower rates of depression postpartum and later in life. Infant mortality rates are lower, breastfeeding rates are higher and home environments are less stressed and yet, many women are unable to reap these benefits.
When mothers around the world were asked recently what they thought of the United States' parental leave practices, many expressed astonishment and contrasted it with their own experience. Most were given weeks or months of paid leave prenatally and after they gave birth.
As several pointed out, it often takes weeks just to heal from the birth, much less to establish breastfeeding and set up a childcare system. One Chilean mother said, "Some people think paid leave is a benefit for parents, but it isn't, it's a child's right." There is so much more involved than just the health of a mother and child - this is about establishing each family's foundation for health and stability.
I read an article recently that contrasted the postpartum experience in the US versus other countries. In many cultures, it is common for a mom to stay in bed for weeks while her family and friends nurture her and take care of household so she can make a full recovery. Dutch mothers are visited at home for eight days after delivery by a postpartum nurse. Mothers in China and Mexico are confined to their home for 30 days or more while they recover and get help with breastfeeding. These cultures expect women to take their time recovering and support them through that transition time.
But here in America, we are not so inter-connected. Because so many mothers muster the strength to get back to work at 6-8 weeks postpartum out of necessity, many of us have a false sense of how easy it is to bounce back after childbirth.
Of course, the truth is that companies have to be able to afford to hold jobs while parents are out and still meet the business obligations on a smaller or interim staff. It is a difficult balance, but as other countries have proven, it can be done. Bills like this one in D.C. may be just what other states need to see in order to prompt broader change.