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States Not Doing Nearly Enough to Help New Parents Study Shows PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andres Chavez, Sun Staff Reporter   
Thursday, 10 May 2012 01:25

Just in time for Mother's Day, a new state-by-state analysis shows how little the nation is doing to help support and protect employed mothers and fathers when a new child arrives. Using a letter grade rating system, no state got an A, only two got A-, and eighteen got Fs. The report, "Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents," graded the states based on their enactment of laws that expand upon federal leave and workplace protections. It finds that no state is doing all that it could to help new parents.

The United States is one of few countries in the world that does not guarantee its citizens access to paid leave for new parents. Just three national laws, addressing pregnancy discrimination, nursing mothers' rights at work, and family and medical leave, help expecting parents upon the birth of a child. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted nearly 20 years ago, provides new parents up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but only about half of the workforce is eligible and many cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides.

The United States lacks a national policy that provides paid family and medical leave and other support to new parents. So the burden falls on the states who, according to the study, have mostly done a poor job.

178 nations around the world guarantee paid leave for new mothers and 54 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers. There is no such guarantee anywhere in the United States. As a result, when workers need family or medical leave, they generally have to rely on individual employers' policies. Only 38 percent of workers have access to employer- provided short-term disability insurance, which would provide some income during a woman's pregnancy-related disability leave.

Only about one-tenth of the workforce has access to employer-provided paid family leave to care for a new child. Workers in low-paying jobs — those with the greatest need for both job protection and wage replacement during leave from work — are far less likely to have access to either of these employer-provided benefits. After returning to work, some nursing mothers have legal protections that help them continue to provide breast milk to their children, but others must rely on their employers' goodwill to be able to pump at work.

Seventy-one percent of children live in families where both parents work, so it is unlikely that new mothers will stay home full time to care for a new child while a father returns to work. Women are primary or co-breadwinners in nearly twothirds of families, meaning that a woman's income loss during pregnancy or parental leave has significant consequences for her family. The number of single- parent families has also grown; parents (usually mothers) in these families often bear sole responsibility for the family's economic security.

Where public policies do exist, research has demonstrated that work and family policies offer enormous benefits for families' economic security and health, as well as for businesses and their bottom lines. The study's grades were based on the following criteria. No state provides all new parents both guaranteed job protection and paid family and medical leave upon the birth or adoption of a new child. For this reason, not a single state earned a grade of "A." California and Connecticut received grades of "A-" for their panoply of laws that help new parents, including California's first-in-thenation paid family leave law and Connecticut's first statewide paid sick days law.

The District of Columbia and New Jersey received grades of "B+" in recognition of their advances in providing workers access to paid sick days and paid family leave, respectively; and Hawaii, Oregon and Washington received grades of "B" for the steps they have taken to protect working parents with FMLA expansions and other family friendly policies. Eighteen states received grades of "F" for failing to provide a single benefit or program to help support families before and after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. Most states fall somewhere in between; they are doing something — but not enough — for working parents.

The Obama administration has proposed a state paid leave fund that would help support states that want to create their own paid leave programs. Some members of Congress who recognize the struggles families face are working on a proposal for a national paid leave insurance program, which would establish a national standard and greatly increase access to paid leave for America's families.

The eighteen states that received Fs, most of whom are controlled by Republicans, are: Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arkansas Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Delaware and West Virginia.

"Expecting Better: A State-by- State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents," was conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group. The organization drafted and led the fight to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act. The organization promotes fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.