Please don’t wait until the doctors tell you that you are going to have a baby to begin to take care of it. It is already there. Whatever you are, whatever you do, your baby will get it. Anything you eat, any worries that are on your mind will be for him or her. Can you tell me that you cannot smile? Think of the baby, and smile for him, for her, for the future generations. Please don’t tell me that a smile and your sorrow just don’t go together. It’s your sorrow, but what about your baby? It’s not his sorrow, its not her sorrow.”
The United States is the only “developed” country in the world that does not offer new parents paid maternity leave. 1 Estonia offers women 140 days of paid maternity and pregnancy leave.2 In Finland, fathers can get up to eight weeks of paid paternity leave. 3
When we see infographics and articles about paid maternity leave, we often assume it means parents are receiving their full salary. In actuality, many governments provide for parents to receive a portion of their salary for a period of time, which still can make it difficult to stay home with your newborn child.
Paid maternity leave is closely associated with family values around the world. Sometimes the roots of such programs are tied to conservative, traditional viewpoints like a mother’s place is in the home or young children should only be with their mothers. In other instances, paid maternity leave is seen as a worthwhile social program to help families make the choices that are best for them.
Here’s a summary of 5 countries around the world and across continents that offer some form of paid maternity and/or paternity leave. There are many, many more.
To begin with, Swedish mothers receive free or subsidized prenatal care. If the pregnant mother has a job that involves heavy lifting, she is entitled to 80% of her income and can stop work two months into her pregnancy paid for by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan).
In addition, most hospitals have adjoining hotels that families can move into for a few days after birth. This lodging is free, including meals, and allows new parents a chance to receive postnatal care.
Swedish parents receive a whopping 480 days of leave! 390 days are compensated at 80% of their salary. The remaining days are at a flat rate. Even unemployed parents are guaranteed paid leave. Beyond this generous leave, parents can reduce their work time by 25% until the child is eight years under federal law.
These rights are shared between the couple and can be split 50-50. Furthermore, fathers are guaranteed 90 of these days, but they can give them to their partner if they choose. 25% of fathers take advantage of this program.
Families also receive a monthly allowance for child-rearing of SEK 1,050 ($118 USD) per child up until the age of 16. 4
Of course, all of these benefits come from a top marginal income tax rate of 61.85 percent. 5 The US’ top marginal tax rate is 39.6 percent and dropping to 37 percent in 2018; however, when you combine state and federal income tax rates jump to 45-50 percent. 67
Eligible parents in Australia receive 18 weeks of paid maternity leave. This is not at their full salary but at the national minimum wage. Minimum wage in Australia is $18.93 an hour ($719.20 a week). 8 In addition, a new parent may receive paid benefits from their employer. Dads and same-sex partners are eligible for 2 weeks of paid leave at minimum wage. 9
To be eligible for paid maternity or paternity leave in Australia, your individual annual income must be less than $150,000. You must have been employed for 10 out of 13 months prior to the birth or adoption. The minimum amount of work during those 10 months is 330 hours or about one day a week. Self-employment counts, even if you did not make a profit. If you had previously paid parental leave during the prior year, it still counts. Unpaid leave does not. 10
When on maternity or paternity leave, you may not work at all.
The top marginal tax rate for Australia is 45%. 11
Hungarian mothers can take a paid maternity leave for up to three years. For the first 168 days of the leave, she receives 70% of her salary. After that, she is eligible for 100 euros a month until her child reaches the age of three. 12 In addition, from the ages of three to eight, parents can apply for child-raising support as long as they don’t work more than 30 hours a week. 13
Furthermore, a family tax allowance called Családi adókedvezmény is available until the child reaches the age of 20 years. If a student has excessive absences from school, this allowance is revoked. It amounts to only about $35 increase in monthly salary for one child but increases all the way over $350 monthly for three children.
Income tax in Hungary is a flat rate of 15%. The country does have the highest Value Added Tax (VAT) in the European Union. 14
Women who have worked with a company for at least 180 days receive full pay for 90 days. The employer pays for the first 60 days, then the government pays the remaining 30 days with supplements from the employer to match the salary if needed. 15 After the 90 days is over, new moms can take up to year total off at 50% of their salary.
South Korea recently enacted more generous maternity leave laws increasing the rate after 90 days from 40% to 50%. This is an effort to create more jobs for women and prevent resigning from work for child-rearing, as well as increase the country’s birth rate. In addition, starting in 2020, pregnant women may work two fewer hours a day without a pay cut. 1617
More South Korean fathers are taking advantage of paid paternity leave. This leave was recently expanded from a measly three days to ten days at full pay. In addition, fathers may now take up to two years off at 80% of their salary. Other expansions allow both parents to take up to one hour off per day without salary reduction until their child reaches the age of eight. 18 There seems to be an inconsistency between duration and percentage paid between fathers and mothers in the sources cited that I am not sure accurately reflects the new law.
Other perks South Korean families enjoy is a $500 bonus when pregnant, a $175 monthly cash allowance until their child turns one, and free daycare. The government hopes these incentives will reverse the country’s declining birth rate.19
Working mothers in Chile receive 18 weeks of full pay maternity leave paid for by the government. Chilean law requires mothers receive free pre- and antenatal care, as well as protects them from dismissal and ensures they will return to their same positions after the leave ends. Fathers are entitled to five days paid leave. Chilean mothers also have the option to take part-time maternity benefits. In which case, the leave can last for 18 weeks and includes 50% maternity benefits and 50% wages. 20
Mothers are entitled to transfer their leave to the father of their child if they decide to go back to work early. Like other countries, the law in Chile protects the parents from work dismissal during the leave. 21
The Situation in the USA and the Republican/Democrat Plans
Some women in the US have rights to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave according to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. In order to qualify, an expectant mother must work for a company with over 50 employees, have had the job for at least 12 months (doesn’t have to be consecutive), and has worked over 1,250 hours. 22 23
If you work for a small company or for less than a year, you have no rights to unpaid maternity leave by law. You can lose your job and health insurance.
Some large corporations in the US do offer paid maternity leave. Twitter, Netflix, Etsy, and Amazon, for example, offer their employees paid time off up to 6 months. According to Forbes, only 12% of US employees are eligible for paid parental leave offered by their employer. 2425 Other sources put the rate at 14%. 26
The Republican Economic Security for New Parents Act and the Democrat FAMILY Act
In August 2018, Mark Rubio (R-FL) introduced the “Economic Security for New Parents Act” S. 334. The bill plans to “To provide paid parental leave benefits to parents following the birth or adoption of a child.” 27 Unfortunately, this plan is not truly paid parental leave as it allows parents to take from their social security to pay for their leave. Vox explains:
The bill is not, in fact, paid leave. It’s another version of unpaid leave that working parents in the United States would have to pay for themselves. A summary of the bill shows that it would merely let workers access some of their Social Security retirement income in advance to make up for some of the wages they would lose when taking parental leave. Workers would still bear the cost of taking time off — by delaying their own retirement. 28
70% of wages would be covered under this plan for up to two months of leave; however, the funding is taking from social security earnings that will delay future retirement based on how many children are in a family and how much leave is taken. Rubio estimates 3-6 months of delayed retirement per child. 29
This plan means parents are simply taking money out of an account they have already saved for the future. The leave is not paid for by the government or employers. In addition, families must make under $70,000 a year to be eligible. It has no cosponsors.
The Democrats introduced a plan in 2017. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) submitted the FAMILY act S. 337. Not a single Republican has shown support. It has 34 Democrat cosponsors.
The FAMILY Act creates a self-sustaining family insurance program for all workers – young and elderly, single and married, and men and women, regardless of the size of their employer. Modeled after successful state programs, and costing only as much as a cup of coffee per week, the fund would provide up to 66 percent wage-replacement for 12 weeks in the event of a serious personal or family medical emergency. 30
The bill would establish a Federal Family and Medical Leave Insurance Trust Fund that would be used to fund the paid leave. 31
The US recognizes paid family leave is important and is strongly supported by the public, yet bipartisanship has kept change from happening. In fact, paid maternity leave around the world is closely aligned with conservative politics. If family values truly were important to politicians, action would happen to bring the US in align with the rest of the world.
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