• Holly Scott-Black

The Case of the Missing Maternity Leave

As Canadians, the larger part of us take for granted the right to paid maternity leave, but in reality, it has affected us more than we realize. When you were born, you mother was granted a minimum of 17 weeks away from her job to nurture, protect and care for you. The bond which you biologically possess was allowed to evolve. All the while, your family was not being forced into deep financial debt and when your mother did return to her job, it was at the rate that she had been paid prior to her leave and not considerably less. This is not a reality for 80% of American mothers, the U.S. being the only developed country which doesn’t have any existing law mandating paid maternity leave; a statistic that’s not only shocking but utterly inexplicable.

It’s a well known fact that the USA is the largest global superpower ever to have existed. Financially, providing new mothers with paid leave would not be difficult, let alone impossible. In fact, it would be beneficial to the economy. The respective costs of replacement workers, lack of spending in unpaid adults and parents forced onto public assistance who rely on taxes for financial stability adds up to trillions of dollars, a massive drain on the US economy. This collective cost in comparison to the cost of funding new mothers is virtually equal, and the social benefits of paid maternity leave are boundless. Considering the lack of cost difference, not funding maternity leave seems not to add up.

In addition to this, unpaid leave is a contributor to the gender wage gap, a system put in place over generations wherein men, statistically, earn more working the same job as women. This gap widens from a 10% to 20% difference at the age of 35, in the center of the window of time within which women are likely to be having children. During the next nine years, men’s wages continue to rise, while women’s stagnate, stretching the wage gap to 23%. This statistic suggests childbirth is driving women out of the work force. When the United States GDP expanded in the 1970’s, it was largely due to the introduction of women into the workforce, which gives an indication of what might ensue along with their exit.

Currently, there are three countries outside of the United States in the world without laws mandating paid maternity leave. These are Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea, all small, undeveloped countries with extremely poor living conditions for the average woman. For the United States, as a highly developed nation whose state of gender equality is far better than the countries to which it’s being compared, there is no concrete explanation for the lack of family friendly rulings.

The missing maternity leave is a case not likely to be solved for a number of years, but now, in the midst of a staggering tumble in workforce participation accredited to the retirement of the baby boom generation, the US can not afford to drive away workers. It would be highly advisable for it to rethink its policies, and fast.