Will the U.S. Ever Improve Parental Leave Policies?

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By Amanda Ojeda

Palau, Tonga, the Marshall Islands, Suriname, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, and the United States. You may be wondering, what does the United States have in common with these other countries (some of which you’ve probably never heard of)? Well…they all have unpaid parental leave. Meaning, the US is the only first-world country lacking in guaranteed paid parental leave.


The International Labor Organization currently has a standard of 12 weeks unpaid, for parental leave. They also have a recommended 14 week parental leave, although since it’s a recommendation it cannot be enforced. Only 119 countries in the world meet the 12 week requirement, with 62 of those countries meeting the 14 week recommended minimum.


On top of the lack of financial support for women who have recently given birth, that support decreases even more for fathers and adoptive parents. Scientists suggest that paid parental leave of at least 6 months is appropriate, not only for the mechanics such as the proximity required for mothers who choose to breastfeed, but also for bonding time for both parents, reduced financial strains, and a more equitable distribution of childcare duties among each parent.


To address such concerns, Governor Hochul announced last February that she will be implementing a plan in New York that will provide over 10,000 unrepresented state employees with 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave.


The policy is at the forefront of the conversation because it adds New York to the club of only a few states that have paid maternity leave. It also precedes more inclusive language through the use of “parental” or “family” leave. This is a highly overlooked but crucial advancement in legislation. It paves the way for future policymakers to keep in mind more inclusive language, and in doing so it promotes the role of fathers, and acknowledges foster and adoptive parents who weren’t previously recognized in parental leave laws.


Hochul stated, “The dedicated New Yorkers who keep our state moving should not be forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for their child, and this policy will establish New York State as a model for helping working families…My administration is committed to giving our public servants the support they need because it’s not only good for their families, it’s good policy.”


Despite our nation’s position as one of the most industrialized countries in the world, we need to do better with our support system for working families. Whether that be paid leave, less employment discrimination, or better childcare support, each of these will contribute to getting these parents back into the workforce, as well as fostering a stronger family unit. Governor Hochul’s policy is one step in the right direction, and will hopefully inspire state and federal policymakers to better address the needs of their working parents.