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Paid Maternity Leave: What’s It Worth to You?

Categories: Parenting, The Juggle, Working? Living?


baby.jpegLast week, the New Jersey State Senate approved legislation that would grant employees paid maternity or dependent-care leave, making New Jersey one of only three states in the US to pay workers who need time off to care for a new child or a sick relative.

That’s right. Three.

Did you know that the United States and Australia are the only two industrialized countries in the world that do not offer paid leave to new mothers? And moms in the Outback have a sweeter deal than we do; in Australia, your job is protected for a year, but in the United States new working moms only get that guarantee for 12 weeks. In fact, according to a 2005 article by the Associated Press, “…out of 168 nations in a Harvard University study last year, 163 had some form of paid maternity leave, leaving the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

But there is hope, at least in New Jersey. According to the New York Times article, “Those taking the leave would be eligible for two-thirds of their salary, up to a maximum of $524 a week, for six weeks.” That’s less than the $917 per week California offers, but is more than twice what Washington State allows. Similar legislation has stalled out in New York, but the New York bill only offered $170 a week, so even if it had passed it might not have been much of a help to workers in urban areas. (Come on… realistically speaking, $170 might make a difference in, say, Cayuga County, but it’s a drop in the bucket if you live in The Bronx.)

The New Jersey bill still has to pass the state assembly, but it is expected to later this week, and Governor Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign it into law.

Kind of makes me wish I had moved back to my home state before I had my kids. Or, maybe, to Finland. Or France.

The United States’ Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, only requires companies with 50 or more people to grant “elegible employees” 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their newborns during a 12-month period — and if the employee has complications during her pregnancy that require her to miss work, that time off can count as part of the 12-week leave.

Let’s compare that to the standards in other countries, shall we?

Canada: New moms get up to 17 weeks of pregnancy leave at 55-percent pay; new moms and dads can split up to 35 weeks of paid parental leave.

France: New moms are entitled to a fully paid, job-protected, mandatory maternity leave starting six weeks before the baby’s birth and extending to 10 weeks after, plus an additional paid leave for either the mom or the dad until the child’s third birthday, if needed. Not your first baby? The amount of leave to which you’re entitled increases with the birth of each child.

Germany: Fourteen weeks of job-protected maternity leave at 100-percent pay.

Finland: New moms are entitled to 18 weeks of maternity leave at 70-percent pay, with an additional 26-week parental leave available to either parent, also at 70-percent pay.

Japan: Six to 10 weeks of prenatal leave, plus eight weeks of post-natal leave, all at 60-percent pay.

Why are we so far behind the curve in this? There are several interesting theories. Some say that American feminism has focused on equal rights, not on maternity rights; others point out that, post World War II, other countries put into place incentives to encourage population growth that the US didn’t want or need; still others assume that American companies simply aren’t willing to foot the bill, especially not the way our economy looks right now.

The New Jersey bill is being paid for by other employees, not by the companies. According to the New York Times article, the measure would be financed by employee payroll deductions that would cost every worker in New Jersey a maximum of 64 cents a week, or $33 a year.

If you go to Starbucks and buy a latte once a week, you spend about $160 a year. Isn’t paid maternity leave worth $33 to people in the other 47 states?

Assuming you didn’t live in California or Washington, how did you manage your maternity leave?

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21 comments so far...

  • my company doesnt have paid maternity so i just took the 6 weeks of ’short-term disability’ and a couple of weeks unpaid leave. it work out ok… but dealing with all the mess of getting the short term disability mess was a PAIN especially after just giving birth (you can’t do it ahead of time).

    i am so on the fence with this - of COURSE i want to have paid leave personally. but i also understand that if you have stronger paid for leave practicies, your chances of getting hired during child bearing years become even harder. companies just do not want the struggle of being with out someone AND paying them AND a temp (or another worker) to do their jobs while they are out. I dont know what the answer is, but I do think that the US is far more concerned with it’s businesses and economy than it’s people and no change will happen unless there is a business enhancing reason (like a tax cut if they participate or something).

    what if instead of short term disability you could take out a sort of account ahead of time and put pre-tax money into it to be used when you are on maternity leave? they should do something like the $500 thing but for more $$$ and can only be used while you arent collecting a pay check!

    i donno, just spewing theories and rambling this morning :) the system is broken but there doesnt seem to be a high priority to fix it…

    Kate  |  March 10th, 2008 at 8:44 am

  • Kate, i soooo agree that getting the Short Term Disability is a major pain!! Argh. Just got off the phone with those people, in fact!

    The history of our country just precludes putting a priority on people who aren’t working (ie., maternity leave mothers). Interesting how New Jersey’s bill is paid for by employees. I will be watching this story!

    Lee  |  March 10th, 2008 at 1:22 pm

  • Dude, I live in Washington State and we don’t have anything like that here. Where’d you get that information? Or is it brand-new (within the last 2 years)? I’d be surprised if I didn’t see anything about that on the news.

    I used short-term disability, vacation time and an unpaid leave of absence to take a total of 3 months after each of my kids was born.

    Jan  |  March 10th, 2008 at 4:35 pm

  • I would be willing to pay 3X that amount or more to ensure I’d get more leave if I was with one of those companies that don’t offer a good plan. This company I work for isn’t terrible, but when I had my daughter, I had less than 2 years in so I could only get 4 weeks at full pay. In this economy, we couldn’t afford for me to take off any more than that.

    Now that I have over 2 years in, I can get 8 weeks off at full pay. After July, I’ll have 3 years in and I’ll be eligible for 12 weeks off at full pay. You get 4 more weeks at full pay each year you stay with the company and it maxes out at 6 years or more with 26 weeks at full pay. It was really difficult for me to only have 4 weeks off with my first baby. I’ll be so happy to get 12 weeks (or more) by the time we have the second.

    Even though my company specifically has this plan, I would be willing to fork up the dough to help someone else have these kinds of opportunities.

    Marcia  |  March 11th, 2008 at 5:48 am

  • wow, I can see the argument against paid leave, but to not be assured of a job after a one year leave? Oh mon dieu, as those lucky French women would say. My main reason for getting educated, a good job and some savings is so that one day my “indulgence” (not because it’s easy, just hopefully rewarding) will be to have some babies and stay home with them for that first year. I would love a law that protects your job for up to one year per pregnancy. In readers experience/knowledge, does anyone take a one year leave in the states when they have a baby? What kind of assurance is there that your job will be around? Does it vary employer to employer or is a year leave (unpaid) just considered ridiculous?

    Lindsay  |  March 11th, 2008 at 11:09 pm

  • Lindsay - in the US companies with over 50 employees are only held responsible for holding your position for you for 12 weeks for any birth/adoption/family emergancy - all covered under the same law. however, they are not required to give you back the job you left, you could end up reassigned to a ’similar’ position. They are not obligated to pay you for this time away (including benifits).

    Beyond that, some companies offer paid time off but most only offer you the option of signing up for short term disability insurance prior to getting pregnant. since birth is a medical condition this allows you to get paid for up to 6 weeks at a % of your pay (depending on the insurance policy). Usually you cannot take this if you are getting paid maternity leave (which is a better deal anyway!)

    also - any company with less than 50 employees doesnt have to do squat for you….

    Kate  |  March 12th, 2008 at 12:43 pm

  • Wow, if that’s not incentive for self employment I don’t know what is. I really hope this changes one day. Thanks for the info Kate.

    Lindsay  |  March 12th, 2008 at 2:03 pm

  • Kate: I think that a pre-tax plan would be one good way to go… New Jersey’s plan is paid for by employees, and it’s not just for new parents, so that’s really appealling to me, too.

    Lee: Short-term disability was such a quagmire of red tape for me that I just used my scrounged up vacation and sick time for my leave the first time around. The second time around, I waded into the quagmire… and found that short-term disability required me to use my vacation and sick time concurrently with the short term disability, so the effect was exactly the same. Irritating.

    Jan: It’s pretty new — the Washington Paid Leave act only passed in April 2007. Here’s a Seattle Times story about it, written in March 2007:

    Marcia: Your company seems like a gem for offering that plan. Is it as family friendly when it comes to other issues, like childcare and flex time?

    Lindsay: My employer will hold your position (or a similar one) for up to 6 months after you have a child, but you have to figure out a way to pay for the time off yourself. I know many women who have ended up just going part-time when they come back, or not coming back at all, afterward… Kate’s point about companies with fewer than 50 employees is a good one to keep in mind, too.

    I was fascinated by some of the reasoning for why the US is the way it is when it comes to paid maternity leave, particularly the idea that feminists in the US were fighting for equal rights rather than maternity rights. Thoughts, anyone?

    Lylah  |  March 12th, 2008 at 2:33 pm

  • Hi, I’m SO excited to hear about this - I think. I’m due Aug 30th and plan to work up as far as I can (since I’m the breadwinner in my household). However I was wondering if this covers those of us who live in NJ but commute to NYC to work. Would you believe that I’m a full time nurse in a CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL and they pay us for ONE WEEK?!?!?

    Ariana  |  March 12th, 2008 at 7:05 pm

  • My company gives you 13w paid and you can have another 13w unpaid plus you can use any earned vacation and sick time. We offer 2w paid paternity leave.

    I was not at this company when I had my children unfortunately. My old company gave you 8w unpaid. I took 12w and came back part time, but I was an exception to the rule.

    This is really hard. After my first 12w was really hard and I was only going back part time. After my 2nd I was either more confident or less susceptible to the self inflicted mom-guilt. We were lucky that we could make it on one salary, but I really feel for people who are not in that position.

    I know this is horrible to say, but if birthing was something men did we’d be having a different discussion.

    klg  |  March 12th, 2008 at 7:41 pm

  • Ariana: Incredible! You think a Children’s Hospital would get it. I’m not sure if the NJ bill covers state residents or people who work in the state, but it’s slated to hit the State Assemby today, I believe, so stay tuned. It’s interesting to me that NJ businesses are blasting the bill as bad for the economy and hurtful to businesses, even though the leave is paid for by employees, not employers.

    klg: I saw a cartoon many years ago, I think it might have been in The New Yorker. It was of a man, hugely pregnant and knitting a pair of booties, with a shocked and disappointed look on his face, sitting across a desk from his boss, also a man, who was looking apologetic and saying, “Now, Bill, I’m really sorry, but the best we can offer you is paid leave for three years, a paid full-time nanny for 10 years after that, and a company car when your kid turns 18. My hands are tied, there’s just nothing else I can do.”

    Lylah  |  March 13th, 2008 at 10:10 am

  • I am so excited to hear that this bill has generated so much support. I am a member of and it’s a grassroots group of local NJ moms that is terrific. They have chapters all around and support legislation. They are known in political circles as a positive force for change for all “mom” issues .

    By being a member and through their organized efforts I can say that I was a part of getting this legislation passed. If you are not a member you should sign up. They send you periodic emails of letters that you can send to your states Senator and Assemblyperson in support of certain family legislation simply by hitting your send button. Their letters are pre-done so you don’t have to do anything.

    But, if you are available to do community work, they also offer many oppotunities to speak and rally at different political events to show your support for different legislation as it passes through every stage of the law process.

    I love it and recommend anyone whose interested in making change in their state to sign up. It’s fresh, new and easy!

    Kelli  |  March 13th, 2008 at 1:41 pm

  • You know, being self employed/freelancing doesn’t exactly help either. I didn’t take any maternity leave with either child b/c I would have lost clients. Or that was my perception. I def. would have lost revenue.

    Mandy  |  March 14th, 2008 at 5:12 pm

  • Americans have some sort of innate aversion to the notion of increasing taxes - as a result, ALL Americans don’t get government services available in higher taxed nations. It really is that simple. Well, actually to mention the other elephant in the room, Americans like to spend their few tax dollars on preemptive strikes and “security”. You get what you vote for and what you are willing to pay taxes for.

    Pie  |  March 16th, 2008 at 9:24 am

  • I can’t afford my own kids so now the State now forces me to pay for everyone elses through taxation. (Aka payroll deduction) ! Isn’t Marxism wonderful?

    newjerseybt  |  April 8th, 2008 at 6:29 pm

  • Kelli: Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the link! I’ll be sure to check it out!

    Mandy: Very true! Unfortunately, I don’t see a way around that one yet, but it is definitely the downside to being self-employed or a freelancer.

    Pie: Good point… seems a shame that we’re not willing to pay for things like dependent care leave or education, but we are willing to pay for other things…

    newjerseybt: Thanks for your comment! It’s worth noting that the NJ bill is actually dependent care leave, not maternity leave, so your payroll deduction, if you choose to contribute, would also allow you to get a paid leave to take care of your spouse, parent, or even yourself. If that’s Marxism, then I’ll agree with you, it seems pretty wonderful.

    Lylah  |  April 8th, 2008 at 7:26 pm

  • I’m all for paid family leave. Other countries manage it — why can’t U.S.

    I took 7 months with each of my kids (only the first six weeks were paid.) My company lets us double the federal unpaid leave of three months.

    That was great, but few people can go without a salary for six months. We were lucky. When I returned to work, my husband took six months off unpaid.

    New York state, where I live, has considered paid family leave but it just doesn’t seem to be able to pass the Senate.

    bloggingmom67  |  May 24th, 2008 at 8:03 pm

  • Funny how all these countries with “high” taxation and “socialized” services have the highest standards of living in the world, better than America’s: Lower infant mortality, longer life spans, healthier citizens, higher literacy rates, fewer hungry people, better environmental protections, far less privatization, workplace protections for mothers–the list goes on and on. Not all of the countries with higher standards of living have every part of that list, but most of them have the majority of those things.

    Nearly all of the countries with these services manage to balance social services with a market economy. Why can’t we?

    How did the UK find the will and the resources to establish a national health care system in the depths of rebuilding their country after WWII? Conditions were terrible there at that time–I don’t think most Americans realize how devastating the war was to them. But they did it. Why cant we?

    It’s pitiful and shameful that a dirt-poor country like Cuba has a better health care system than we do, with more doctors (some of the best in the world), Medications that cost hundreds of dollars here cost nickels and dimes there. With all of their problems, they managed to scrape something together to give their people health care. Why can’t we?

    How is it any less of “taxation” to pay a few bucks for dependent care, or medical care, than to pay for insurance premiums through your work place that don’t even cover most of your health care and living expenses, because YOUR premiums are paying for some CEO’s new yacht, NOT for your health care? Why can’t we stand up to this nonsense?

    Being called a Marxist is a small price to pay for having the quality of life that a French, Swedish or Japanese woman enjoys. So let the revolution begin, Comrades.

    Aquaria  |  August 27th, 2008 at 10:20 am

  • WA state passed the paid maternity leave act in 2007 but it won’t take affect til October this year or maybe even next year.Which sucks because I could really use it.I honestly think maternity leave should be longer than 12 weeks.Because if you have to do bed rest etc before the baby and it counts to the 12 weeks.I won’t come back at the end of the 12 weeks.Not til i can find a day care.That can take two months or more.

    Diana  |  May 16th, 2009 at 11:24 am

  • I am a career Fire Fighter I have one Son who is now 3yrs old, and I have been doing this job for 4yrs. It was the most horrible stressful situation to be a pregnant Fire Fighter! . When I told them I was pregnant they sent me to the city Dr. who put me out of work immediately. I had to use all my sick and vacation time, I lost my sinority,and medical benefits which caused me to have to get my prenatal care at the clinic through public assistance. I was out a total of 6months without pay and when I returned to work I had a newborn but no sick or vacation time god forbid I needed to use it. I would love to have more children but all they offer here is the 6wks family leave which is nonsense when they want you to go out right away and lose everything. The city’s soliciter’s response was it’s not that I don’t sympathize but this is what she signed up for…. If anyone out there has any suggestions I’m all ears!

    Danyl  |  December 12th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

  • So although I understand the positions that you are all talking about, I also ask you to look at it from another view. There is a comment below that implies the low benefits are an incentive for self-employment.

    I beg to differ.

    As a self employed woman, I’m not even sure how I would have a child and not lose my major clients in the first few months with all the craziness of a newborn.

    And I get NO benefits. ZERO paid vacation days. ZERO sick days. No form of retirement package presented to me and no health insurance benefits at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real serious family emergency. I will lose my business if I am not on my toes with replaying to customers constantly.

    Oh, plus…. I pay significantly more taxes than everyone else. I actually have to pay an additional tax that is actually called a “self employment tax”.

    But… all these things are my choice. No one is making me own my own business. I am simply responsible for my own decisions and my own life choices, included pregnancy.

    I do plan on getting pregnant in the next few years. And I’ll find a way to make it work. But I do not expect someone else to take a financial hit just because I want to have a baby.

    Everyone having lengthy maternity leave sounds wonderful. And I realize that in a society where usually both parents need to work, it’s even more important. In a perfect world I would back as much as possible 150 percent.

    But the money has to come from somewhere. And that means it has to come from someONE. It is my choice to have children and I don’t think someone else should have to pay for it.

    Just a thought to maybe provide a different point of view from someone who wishes they had the option of even a week or two of maternity, short-term disability, or even a week or so of sick time!!

    Side note: I like Kate’s idea of pre-tax account you could put money into ahead of time. I think it’s a wonderfully proactive idea.

    Erika  |  September 15th, 2011 at 9:57 am