Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Comparing new parent social welfare benefits of the United States vs the social democracies

Courtney Jung points out the hypocrisy of American social welfare benefits for new mothers (emphasis added):
In 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to require employers to "provide reasonable break time" and space for women to pump breast milk at work. To be clear, those breaks are unpaid, and the Department of Health and Human Services encourages employers to have mothers come in early or stay late to make up the time they spend pumping. Since 2013, the Affordable Care Act has required insurance companies to cover the cost of a breast pump for new mothers.

Such policies have quietly realigned our expectations of what new mothers should do to care for their newborns, making mothers work harder, for less pay, under conditions that risk compromising their dignity and professionalism.

They are also explicitly conceived as business-friendly strategies that enable women to comply with the injunction to breastfeed at no cost to employers. Who needs a lavish European-style maternity leave when we've got breast pumps?
That's it for mandated maternity benefits: free breast pumps for women lucky enough to have health insurance. Rather than giving new moms leave like the rest of the world (no other developed country fails to offer paid maternal leave), we mandate free breast pumps so there can be no excuse for new moms not to return to work immediately. Oh, and it's very easy for insurers to weasel out of providing breast pump benefit. (On an unrelated note, we also have lax enforcement of laws that prevent employers from summarily firing women who become pregnant).

Jung alludes to parental leave; in the social democracies, new parents are eligible for a (combined) year or more of paid parental leave. Paid parental leave in the United States? As I outlined here, mean paid parental leave in the United States is 7 weeks for mothers and 3 weeks for fathers, and only 11% of American workers are offered it. And per the American Family and Medical Leave Act, new parents are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave upon the birth of a child, but 40% of workers are ineligible for even this unpaid FMLA leave. Few could afford unpaid leave anyway. That's the American welfare system in a nutshell: 60% of people have the right not to be fired from their job if they leave for a few weeks to take care of their newborn child.

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