Is Ms. Trump’s proposal just window dressing? Or is it a small step in the right direction?
Parental leave is a policy in which the United States has always been lacking, especially as compared to other countries. Although it’s crucial for new parents to spend time with their children, our government continuously neglects to enshrine this as a right.
Medically, maternity leave provides vital recovery time for new mothers. This allows new mothers to recover from complications that linger for weeks, sometimes even months, after the delivery of a child. It’s nothing short of a miracle to have a speedy, six week recovery. But instead of offering the minimum of six weeks, the United States’ currently mandates zero weeks of paid leave for new mothers and fathers.
At this point, the only mandated option is unpaid leave. (Some companies offer paid leave to employees. However, employer-provided leave is only available to 12% of American workers). The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was passed in 1993, required employers to offer their employees the ability to take unpaid leave for medical or personal reasons. After this law came into effect, employers were not permitted to terminate employees for taking time for family-matters, but there was no federal provision to provide compensation for the employees during this time.
The norm of unpaid maternity and paternity leave, under this law, encompasses care for heterosexual couples with full-time jobs that have been working for at least 12 months with their current employer. Furthermore, the employer must have at least 50 other employees to work in the 75 mile radius. So, if a parent in a same-sex marriage with 3 part-time jobs that has been working for five years may not even be eligible for unpaid parental leave. These restrictions leave approximately 40% of the population in the workforce ineligible for FMLA’s unpaid parental leave.
Even if an employee is eligible for leave under FMLA, unpaid maternity leave sometimes leaves families unable to make ends meet. Women are the “breadwinners” in almost half the nation’s households. Is it reasonable to expect a new mother recovering from childbirth and its sometimes serious mental postpartum effects to give up her household’s income?
When compared to other countries, the United States is far behind on parental leave. Lithuania, Japan, Hungary, and Bulgaria, for example, all offer over 40 weeks of paid parental leave. If these industrialized, progressive countries can work towards a government mandate for paid parental leave, why can’t we? Estonia, an extreme ideal to some, mandates 87 weeks of paid leave, which is over a year and a half.
Without any viable options for parental leave, new parents are faced with serious issues. One in four new mothers have to return to work in two-week’s time of childbirth. Physical health problems aside, time away from a newborn can lead to postpartum mental difficulties. The leading cause of death for new mothers, according to a recent study in Colorado, is suicide or self-harm.
With the new and controversial Trump administration comes the controversial policies. One of many is the Trump administration’s $25 billion proposal on parental leave, which is being pioneered by Ivanka Trump and has been included in the President’s budget.
Mr. Trump has suggested making child care expenses tax deductible for families earning less than $500,000 and called for establishing tax-free accounts to be used for child care and child enrichment activities.” While at first this seems to be an ideal plan for new parents seeking an affordable child care plan, it’s been criticized for favoring wealthier families.
Simply put, if a family without the dual-income applies for this child care program, they would not get a great deal. So lower-income, underprivileged families would still stay at the bottom of the ladder, while higher earning families would get tax deductions and child care advantages.
The second part of the Trump administration’s childcare plan benefits both biological and adoptive parents by permitting six weeks of paid leave to new parents. Although six weeks is significantly better than simply relying on the current FMLA provisions, almost every other developed nation provides longer and more substantial parental leave plans to new parents. Six weeks is nothing compared to the standard 2 months that most European countries offer.
While this may not be the perfect childcare plan for families with financial struggles, many of Ms. Trump’s supporters argue that it’s better than nothing. In this point of view, Ms. Trump has done just the bare minimum. Lowering the standards and being content with a plan that does not sufficiently help those in need hardly makes for a significant accomplishment. This brings forth the criticism that Ms. Trump’s “feminism” is not as genuine as it may seem at first glance.
Ms. Trump has made herself known as the go-to woman for progressive change and women’s interests in her father’s administration. But when her programs only do the bare minimum, can we truly consider her a leading advocating for the issues that affect women?
It’s time to bring the United States up to snuff with the rest of the developed world and give parents the time they need to spend with their newborns.
Priyanka Bansal is a student at Rutgers University.