- Policy provokes me to think and write. I currently work in ivory towers inspiring people to engage in their world. I am a student of the human condition and my classroom is the world. I don't need credentials to have an opinion but I've got paper to prove I know a few things about public health, social welfare and economics. I'm coming out of the tower and taking the words to the people and hope you will send some words back at me.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Dear Missouri, Re: the fetus, the baby and PAID maternity leave
Missouri and Mississippi have decided that they will decide when life begins. Too many US states have god complexes which make them think they have the wisdom (hahahaa!!) to decide when life begins and the authority to decide when it ends. And oh... by the way.... just because the law (of Missouri of all places!) says its so don't make it so.
Of course, this law is about abortion. And whatever the beliefs of the governor or the laws of the state, when a woman in Missouri wants an abortion she will leave the state to get one. Contrary to the belief of many, the decision to have an abortion is a tortuous one that women do not take lightly. That "Oh shit!" moment of a positive pregnancy test is one of the most feared moments in the life of a woman unprepared (emotionally, psychologically and financially) for a child. If this country was more child friendly in its social welfare policies perhaps women would not go through the mental and physical anguish of termination.
And while they are legislating their way up my vagina, they all may want to work on legislating more men to be the kind of people with whom we would choose to have a child. Get them a job. Charge them when they hit me. And don't make it like climbing Everest for a rape charge to stick.And as for child welfare policy.... where do I start???
Well I think I'll start with maternity leave. Yup... right at the beginning. I could go on and on about how many women do not have access to medical care during pregnancy because so many doctors wont take Medicaid but that's another rant for another day.
Today I am focusing on maternity leave though it's hard to talk about it and not included all the other sanity-provoking policies related to children in this 'advanced' country.
Ok... so now I have a baby. This is the point at which Republicans talk to me about personal responsibility (I'm not responsible enough to decide about my own body but I'm responsible enough for a child. Yeah. Ok. Makes sense. NOT!). And it begins with maternity leave (and it continues so far into the future that I will be provoking enough family policy to keep this blog filled for a long time to come). It seems that once I have this baby the Reps so want me to have, then I am on my own.
Sure there is this Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which throws all kinds of leave into one 3 month pot and god bless ya if your mom gets sick and you have a baby in the same year. Anyway, say it's just me and this baby. And I dont work for one of the top law firms or corporations that are competing for top talent so give them paid maternity leave to attract and retain them. If I'm just a regular working girl, what do I do? I take UNPAID leave. And if I'm just a regular working girl how do I afford to take an unpaid leave when my expenses just increased? (Subsidized childcare is also a topic for a later rant).
A 2004 Harvard study of 168 nations found that 163 had some form of paid maternity leave. The USA was one of the countries, like Papua New Guinea and Lesotho, that did not. The countries who are members of the Organization forEconomic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average 18 weeks of paid leave!!!!
And what really pisses me off is that feminist activists in this country do not want to provoke this policy because they think it makes us stand out as needing different treatment than men. Really???? We grow humans. We incubate them for 9 months. We have the feeding implements that can be their sole nutritional source for more than 6 months. The men did a poke 9 months prior. Who can argue a huge difference and it's time that women acknowledge the difference, own the power in that difference, and demand what we need to take care of the next generation. Our social welfare policies push poor women to work and social norms support middle class and wealthy women to stay home. Taking care of one's own child should not be an economic luxury!!! In fact, it's cheaper to pay a mother to stay home and take care of her child than to pay for subsidized childcare. But it's not just about money, it's about values. (Oh so many rants for later days).
Maternity leave is a key factor in the gender gap in wages and employment and in the ‘family gap’ in income that exists between women with children and women without children. Much of the gender gap (40-50%) in income can be explained by the family gap differential due to marital and parental status among women.
The absence of paid maternity leave in the USA has been perceived by feminists and public health professionals as anti-woman, anti-child and anti-family because it does not provide income for the woman post-childbirth nor does it support the 6-month breast-feeding recommendations of the American Pediatric Association.
Not many women can afford to take unpaid leave and the women who work for companies where paid leave is a perk are more likely to be able to afford to take an extended leave. By making work incompatible with motherhood, women are forced to make hard choices between taking care of their children and being in the workforce.
There is no coincidence in the poor health outcomes we have for infants/children in this country. We do not seem to care what happens to them once they are born but spend way too much time worried about them in utero. It's hard to find affordable quality childcare, public schools suck, juvenile justice facilities are full to overflowing, high school graduation rates are low and college costs more than a condo.
By making work incompatible with motherhood, women are forced to make hard choices between taking care of their children and being in the workforce. And men do not have to make this choice. Leaving the workforce because of motherhood not only reduces our present income but our lifetime income and our pensions and makes us dependent economically on men - which doesn't work out so well for so many women. (Note to self: future rant on child support collection). The price of motherhood need not be so financially challenging. Or as is happening all over the OECD, women will simply choose to opt out of the motherhood game altogether. And that demographic challenge is not one that is easily fixed. Just ask Japan or Germany or any country where the demographic pyramid is scaring the statistics out of any pension administrator.
Doing research on this topic for an economics class on gender and family, it was really hard to find a rationale for the resistance to paid maternity leave in the USA so I'm not sure why we're stuck in some sort of policy dark age (along with universal health care --- oh way too many rants to write). But I thought I'd end on a positive note and give props to a couple companies (among many) that stand out in this area.
Ernst and Young, which in 2010, was listed among the top 10 family friendly companies by Working Mother Research Institute, provides new mothers with 12 weeks paid leave and 10 weeks unpaid leave. Bank ofAmerica, which was also on the top 10, gives a paid leave to either gender of 12 weeks and allows them to take a total of 26 weeks.
Women, when you're thinking of where to work, maternity leave policy should be part of your background research (but keep it out of the interview:) if you are thinking about having a child. In the meantime, stay away from Missouri and Mississippi.