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The president’s budget includes a proposal to provide working parents six weeks of paid leave after childbirth or adoption. Some Democratic members of Congress have denounced this plan as “woefully inadequate.” But Julia Isaacs argues that six weeks is a lot better than none.
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The six weeks in Trump’s plan are only half of the 12 weeks provided under the FAMILY Act, which is supported by many Democrats in Congress. It also is low by international standards. A study of 185 countries found that only 15 percent provide fewer than 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (32 percent provide 12 to 13 weeks, 30 percent provide 14 to 17 weeks, and 23 percent provide 18 weeks or more).
Six weeks may seem short to some, but it would be a big step forward from the zero weeks of paid maternity leave available to most working mothers and fathers in the United States. The United States is one of two countries—the other is Papua New Guinea—that does not have a national paid leave policy to allow mothers to spend time caring for their newborns and regain their health after childbirth.
A Census Bureau report shows that
- 5 percent of first-time mothers who worked during their pregnancy in 2006–08 were let go from their job during pregnancy or within six months of childbirth,
- 22 percent quit their job,
- 42 percent took unpaid leave,
- 10 percent took disability leave, and
- 51 percent used paid maternity, sick, vacation, or other paid leave.
The Trump proposal would have parental leave benefits administered through unemployment insurance programs (administered by state departments of labor), whereas the FAMILY Act proposed a national plan of parental benefits administered by a new office of the Social Security Administration. Perhaps one could take the best of both plans, with a national policy providing the equity of uniform coverage and benefit amounts (as in the FAMILY Act), yet state administration through departments of labor (as in the Trump plan). This could capture the efficiency of building on agencies that already have quarterly earnings data and are accustomed to reviewing applications and issuing benefit checks relatively quickly.