The US ranks last on this important issue (2015)

If paid parental leave sounds appealing, it's best to work in another industrialized nation. CNN's Kelly Wallace explains.

Posted: Jan 13, 2019 11:58 AM
Updated: Jan 13, 2019 12:05 PM

As if you needed another reason to pack your belongings and head west, California's governor just proposed a plan to give new parents six months of partial-paid leave -- the most generous policy in the nation.

Describing the proposal as a "no-damn-brainer," Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his plan on Thursday at a budget press conference in Sacramento.

'We're committed to a six-month paid sick leave system," he said. "Why? For no other reason than it's a developmental necessity."

The plan, part of the Democratic governor's $209 billion budget plan, would compensate new parents up to 70 percent of their wage when they take off to care for a newborn or newly adopted baby. Two parents or caretakers would be allowed to take advantage of the program for up to three months each.

It's a major upgrade to the state's current paid family leave policy, which provides up to only six weeks of partial pay for employees as part of the state's Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave Program.

California's Assembly Budget Committee and state senate have until June 15 to review and vote on the proposal.

US lags behind in parental leave

If passed, Newsom's proposal would set a precedent in the United States, but certainly not the world.

The US ranks last in maternity leave in an analysis of 42 countries by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of industrialized nations. No surprise there, as the US doesn't guarantee women any paid maternity leave. Instead, it lets individual employers decide how much to offer.

The 11 best countries for maternity leave are all European, with Bulgaria -- which offers just under 59 weeks of paid leave -- leading the pack, according OECD. Estonia and Poland are tied for 10th place with 20 weeks each.

The OECD study, based on policies that were in effect as of April 2016, notes that not all countries ranking in the top 10 offer fully paid time off.

Mothers in the UK, for example, get a whole year (52 weeks) of maternity leave. However, 39 of those weeks are partially paid. The amount women receive over that period works out at just 12 fully paid weeks, according to the OECD.

The US' failure to guarantee women any paid maternity leave breaks with The International Labor Organization's call for "14 weeks of maternity benefit to women," including "a cash benefit" that should "be no less than two-thirds of her previous earnings or a comparable amount."

Women "require protection to ensure that they will not lose their job simply because of pregnancy or maternity leave," says the UN agency.

"Protecting them from job discrimination is a precondition for achieving genuine equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women at work."

CNN parenting contributor Elissa Strauss says that California's proposed bill is "so much better than nothing, but leaves room for improvement."

Calls for parental leave make headway

The idea of implanting a national paid-leave plan in the United States is making headway. In fact, it was included in the Trump administration's 2019 budget. The proposal calls for six weeks of paid leave for mothers and fathers.

It's a rare call for a new entitlement program from the administration.

Meanwhile, Democrats have long called for paid family leave. Since 2013, congressional Democrats have introduced and reintroduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave, or FAMILY, Act, which would allow workers to take up to 60 individual days of paid leave per year to care for a new child, sick family member or tend to one's own illness.

In lieu of a national law, some states have taken it upon themselves to enact family legislation.

In 2004 California became the first state to introduce paid leave through the creation of a temporary disability insurance program. New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington DC followed suit with their own paid-leave programs.

Washington state will start to offer paid family and medical leave to workers in 2020.

"Paid leave isn't just a policy. It's also an important cultural shift that shouldn't be overlooked," Strauss said. "It sends the message that this is not just an important thing to do but an OK thing to do."

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