There are only two nations in the world without paid maternity leave – and we’re one of them

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There are only two nations in the world without paid maternity leave – and we’re one of them

Photographs courtesy of Illustration by Arunlal Soman

Photographs courtesy of Illustration by Arunlal Soman

Photographs courtesy of Illustration by Arunlal Soman

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There are only two countries on Earth that do not provide cash benefits to women on maternity leave: Papau New Guinea, and the United States. The United States is the only developed country in the world not to offer these benefits. We live in a country where  29 percent of pregnant women do not take maternity leave, and 33 percent of those that do, go unpaid. When mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18, and 70 percent of mothers participate in the workforce, that is unacceptable. A woman should not have to rely on getting lucky with her job in order to be able to take care of her child without fear of financial stability. This is something that most of society even seems to agree upon—when President Trump was running for election, he had advocated for six weeks of paid maternity leave, and according to the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of Americans support paid maternity leave.

While some may claim that maternity leave a strain on the economy because women are getting paid without actively contributing to the workforce, it may very well be the opposite. The United States is the one of the only countries in the world that engages in widespread pregnancy discrimination, a researched phenomenon in which women are demoted or even fired once their employers find out they are pregnant. Women that do not have paid maternity leave, or cannot find a job because they have a child, may be forced to take advantage of social programs because they lack the money to support themselves.   

If  most Americans agree that we need paid maternity leave, how have we lagged behind like this? In the ’90s, women were given 12 weeks unpaid leave versus none, but this is still not enough. Isn’t it time to catch up with the rest of the world?