Home > Politics > Why Can’t the U.S. Figure Out How to Offer Paid Maternity Leave?

Why Can’t the U.S. Figure Out How to Offer Paid Maternity Leave?

US needs paid maternity leave

Netflix made headlines recently for offering a year of paid maternity and paternity leave for parents caring for a newborn or newly adopted child. While this might seem shocking to those of us the the United States, people around the globe are probably saying that it’s about darn time.

The US is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave. We join right in there with Swaziland, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Oman (where 60% of men have acknowledged committing rape) in expecting women to pop out a kid and head on back to work. Maybe we can even schedule delivery during lunch breaks to make it more convenient!

Why Don’t People in the US Take Time Off?

Beside the fact that congress is hardly able to have a discussion about anything other than who to point the finger at next, our culture is not very accepting of anyone who doesn’t want to work 40+ hours per week. According to this survey from Glassdoor, many of us aren’t taking time off at all, even if we get paid to do so.

  • Average American employees only took half of their paid vacation days for the previous 12 months.
  • 15 percent took no paid vacation days at all.
  • 20 percent of people ages 18-34 took paid time off to interview for another job.
  • 61 percent of those who took vacation time off admit to working during vacation.

For women who do get paid maternity leave, over a third do not take the full amount of time off. In fact, 12 percent of new mothers went back to work after taking off only two weeks or less.

Afraid of Losing Job Status

I think the big reason people in the US don’t take paid time off is because of fear. We’re afraid someone will shine in our absence and that might lead to a loss of job status or make us vulnerable for the next round of layoffs. For small business owners, the fear of losing revenue is a reality. After my daughter was born, I only took six weeks because that was all the practice could afford. Was I a sleep deprived wreck of a person? Yes. Did anyone care? Nope.

We view people who take “too much time off” as weak or lazy. Even with my current part time schedule, I get comments about all the time I must spend doing nothing and leading a cushy life. Thanks goodness the spending time with my daughter trick shuts most of them up. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d be labeled as some sort of couch potato who watches soaps and eats chocolates all day.

Could We Ever Pass a Payroll Tax for Paid Leave?

So, even if our culture could shift so that attitudes were more accepting of paid maternity leave and time off, how could businesses afford it?

Well, obviously Netflix can afford to offer awesome benefits to attract the best and brightest. Companies like Faceboook, Google, and even Microsoft all offer generous amounts of maternity leave compared to some industries, but what about businesses who have a tighter belt?

When I owned my practice, there was no way I could offer a year of paid leave. With only six employees and little chance to hire temps, it was always a huge struggle when someone had a baby, self included.

In order for small businesses to be able to offer a respectable amount of paid leave, there would have to be some sort of payroll tax similar to unemployment. This is how other countries subsidize maternity leave. Some states have already started their own payroll deductions to fund maternity and paternity leave, but the majority still offer no paid time off for being ill, let along having a baby.

There’s Always Afganistan

Since over 80 percent of Americans are in favor of paid leave, it should be a no brainer. I would gladly give up a percentage of my income if it meant new parents could take time off without worrying about going on food stamps.

However, any new proposal that threatens to raise taxes for any reason, even something with broad support, causes the political sharks to start throwing daggers about one party wanting to take our money. It’s a shame really. I guess if we really want paid maternity leave, we can always move to Afganistan, where at least 13 weeks off with full pay are guaranteed.

Would you agree to a payroll tax to extend paid leave to all workers? Do you take all of your paid time off? 



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I hope that Netflix (and now Adobe) making changes to their parental leave policies at least starts the discussion that it may actually be important for new families to take time off. Unfortunately seeing a business climate in the US that focuses on how many hours someone works may be too strong of a force to get a systematic change to the policies. I am personally all in favor of new parental leave policies after only being able to take about a week off when my daughter was born since that was all the vacation I had.

    • I guess I’m lucky I got to take 6 weeks. It’s sad that we can pay for two pack a day smokers to be on Medicaid but we can’t find a way to let new Moms take a few months off.

  2. I’d have to have more of an understanding of what the tax meant to me, the person who will never take maternity leave since I’m never having kids (although I wholeheartedly agree that our current laws suck). I have to say if it did affect me, I might not be so happy, but if it doesn’t I’d be all for it. Maybe I’m the selfish singleton. lol!

    • From what I read, it would only cost something like $30 per year, and it was my understanding that California already had a payroll tax for paid leave. I did not know if that mean for self employed people or not. Even though I’m not having any more kids, I would gladly pay 30 bucks a year for new Moms to get time off.

    • From what I read, it would only cost something like $30 per year, and it was my understanding that California already had a payroll tax for paid leave. I did not know if that mean for self employed people or not. Even though I’m not having any more kids, I would gladly pay 30 bucks a year for new Moms to get time off.

  3. I love seeing what companies like Netflix are doing – it’s about time really. It’s crazy we rank so low for maternity leave and think much of it, though not all, goes back to how much we prize work in the US. Yes, it’s obviously important but we need to let people have a life. I think the parental leave policy as a whole needs a major overhaul – though I believe the government is going to do nothing about it thus leaving it to companies to change.

    • Yes, it sucks that only big companies with big cash reserves can afford to do this. It makes me wonder what will happen when a downturn occurs. Will they negate the policy?

  4. This is a topic that should be discussed more. My friend works for one of the biggest corporations in the world, yet they only just now are giving 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (they just passed this rule last month!). She is pregnant right now so it couldn’t have come at a better time, however, is 12 weeks actually enough? I’m thinking not.

    • I think it depends on the person. I believe 6 months would be ideal. 12 months would have probably been too long for me, but I could have used more time to at least get in some sort of a routine. Going back to work after a few weeks means being stressed and sleep deprived. I’m not ever sure why people want you to work in that state.

  5. One thing that doesn’t seem to be factored into the discussion about paid maternity leave is the situation of small business owners who might be struggling just to keep 3 or 4 people on their payroll. They really have to consider the value an individual provides for the business in order to justify having them provide no service yet receive full pay for a year. It is much the same as the $15 hour minimum wage. The result of that in cities which have enacted it has quite quickly been the loss of thousands of jobs….mainly those which lower income people desperately need. I think the same would happen with maternity leave. Plus, with such a law-suit happy society we live in, after maternity leave is enacted, what happens when someone asks for abortion leave? Or broken leg leave? Or….I didn’t get to take maternity leave 30 years ago and it is unfair that I have to do their job while they are gone, so now I want a year off when the new parent returns? Silly? Perhaps, but sillier things have been sued over.

    • I think maternity leave would be specified as for those giving birth or adopting a baby with rules similar to the rules that govern who can collect unemployment, not every circumstance qualifies. I also think it would be similar to qualifying for other benefits like health insurance or a 401k. You’d have to have worked a minimum amount of time before you qualify. Perhaps to qualify for a full year of leave, you’d have to agree to work for an additional year after coming back to work so as to prevent people collecting a year of pay then quitting. As a former small business owner, if I’d had an employee who took a year of paid leave that was already covered by a payroll deduction, then I would hire someone for a year with the understanding that the other worker would be coming back. I don’t think you’d have an issue because no one thinks of a job in terms of more than a year these days anyway. There are lots of things to be worked out, but if practically every other nation in the free world can do it, you’d think the US could find a way.

    • lol @ abortion leave. Just because you didn’t get something 30 year ago does not mean people have to continue to suffer. That’s like a 50-year-old woman in the USA in 1919 saying she never had the right to vote before and she is fine as is so she doesn’t think women should have the right to vote now.

      And as far as small business owners dealing with it, they already have to deal with it–it’s called the Family and Medical Leave Act. By law, a job must leave a position for someone leaving for medical leave, including a pregnancy leave for 12 weeks. A federal tax for maternity leave would not impose on the small business owner any more than FMLA.

  6. Ha funny comment about Afghanistan. It’s true that while the US stands tall in many areas, healthcare and workplace benefits are not our forte. Our culture also tends to look down on those who take extended amounts of time off, even if it’s for a baby.

    • I am all in favor of hard work, but I think everyone deserves time off. It prevents burn out and makes us more efficient workers.

  7. I feel like the US is actually a pretty regulated economy, so it really is surprising that there isn’t mandatory maternity leave. I think you are right on with this -> “We’re afraid someone will shine in our absence and that might lead to a loss of job status or make us vulnerable for the next round of layoffs.” I think people feel this with even SHORT-term leave, like 2 weeks.

  8. We have similar challenges here in Australia. As yet there’s no paid maternity leave but that’s mostly because the current government botched the whole thing from start to finish.

    I guess the simple solution is to see if the system used by the Scandinavian countries can be applied here and in the US. No need to reinvent the wheel. Just transplant the system.

    Attitudes are different there though. Parents are expected to stay home with their child so they can bond. They seem to have the view that when that happens; when parents and babies are happy and secure, everyone benefits. Shocking, huh?!

    I was lucky enough to spend a full year at home with my daughter. We planned for that though by living on one salary as soon as we knew she was on the way. My job was protected by law for that 12 months, too. So, no need to worry about it disappearing while I was away.

  9. I think a national tax on income taxes is a great idea to support a national paid maternity leave. If you put limits on it, like you must have been consistently employed for 10 months prior and worked at least 30 hours a week (meaning, no one on SSI or welfare would qualify), it would be a boon to working mothers. There will always be fraud (just like there’s Medicare Fraud) but with the right legislation, it would be minimal. I also would support it for adoptions and for both parents since not everyone is lucky enough to have a child biologically.

    I signed up for Aflac so I could get 6 weeks of pay when I do plan to have a kid. I’ll have to use vacation time and sick time to make up for the rest. I don’t think I’d take more than 12 weeks though because of what you say… that fear of being replaced.

    I’m also lucky in that my mom will be our full-time nanny for free when the time comes so I know I am luckier than a lot of people out there.

    • It’s a sad culture when our fear of being replaced trumps our need to take care of children. You are lucky to have a grandparent close by.

  10. From my perspective the issue revolves around whether people should look to the government to solve every problem, or take personal responsibility to implement an existing private alternative.

    Many people mistakenly assume that their state will provide certain benefits, only to learn the hard way. We publish a great deal of information about short-term disability insurance. Most of the calls we receive come from pregnant women and other disabled people wanting to know where to file a claim for coverage they do not have, or how to buy a policy that covers their preexisting condition. It does not work that way.

    I find it interesting that almost every article published focuses almost exclusively on the government solution, and not the private. Families can purchase supplemental insurance in advance of conception, or any other type of medical event causing lost income, and make a big dent in the problem.

    However, nobody seems to talk about the private alternatives. It is almost taboo to suggest that people take responsibility for their own finances. As a result, we keep people in the dark until the government solution comes about.

    • I’m all for personal responsibility, but a few points.

      There is no private option that guarantees my job back if I want to take longer than 12 weeks.

      It was my understanding that disability only pays a portion of your income for a limited amount of time.

      What if new Dads want to take time off?

  11. Well, it’s easy for me to say yes because I’m self-employed. Then again, I do cut myself a paycheck, so I guess if it were like FICA and something that had to be taken out, I’d be subject to it. Either way, I think it’s absolutely something to pay for.

  12. Why not just give everyone six weeks off a year. That way, a person that chooses not to have kids can take a nice long vacation.

    We give people with kids way too many benefits, paid for often people without them. School taxes, child care credit, etc.

    Kids cost money. If you do not have it, do not have kids. And do not make me pay for them.

    That’s why, I do not feel guilty about today’s kids having to pay more in social security taxes to support me. raise the SS taxes to 20% if that’s what it takes…

    • I think we all tend to side with rules that directly benefit ourselves. People without property probably feel landlords get too many tax deductions. People who don’t get health care subsidies think Obamacare is unfair.

      My personal thought is that if you can be a bum who pops out kids every year and lives totally on the system without trying to work, then why is that OK but offering some paid maternity leave to those who do want to take a few months off to be a new parent without fear of losing a job can’t be done. In a perfect world, we’d all have a year of expenses saved up, but the world is not perfect and I would hate to spend my emergency fund on maternity leave and then have a real emergency.

      Maybe we should just legalized marijuana everywhere and use that to fund maternity leave plus a few other things. Tax on pot seems to be the only one I never hear anyone complaining about!

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