Obama Wants Paid Maternity Leave, Finally

by Lauren Barbato

The United States seriously lags behind most of the world when it comes to mandated paid maternity leave, but we might be inching closer to that reality. According to ABC News, President Obama is directing federal agencies to provide paid maternity leave to their employees. The president's proposal requests at least six weeks of paid leave.

In an editorial posted Wednesday on the employment website LinkedIn Pulse, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama plans to announce his new directive on Thursday alongside several other family-oriented measures. Jarrett said the president will sign a memorandum granting federal employees at least six weeks of paid maternity leave, and will also "propose that Congress offer [six] weeks of paid administrative leave."

It's not just paid maternity leave that Obama wants. On Thursday, he will urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would give working Americans seven days of paid sick leave per year. According to Jarrett, Obama also plans to work with states to create their own earned sick leave programs. Currently, just three states have statewide paid sick leave: Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut.

And as far as mandated maternity and paternity leave goes, just three states have laws in place: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. "The United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave," Jarrett writes. (Depressing, but true.)

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Jarrett continues:

At a time when all parents are working in more than 60 percent of households with children (up from just 40 percent in 1965), and 63 percent of women with children under the age of 5 participate in the labor force (compared with 31 percent in the early 1970s), one fact is resoundingly clear: The fundamental structure of our workplaces has simply not kept pace with the changing American family.

Fixing that won't just make life better for millions of American families. It will ultimately improve the financial bottom lines of the companies that choose to step up and make a change on their own – which is precisely why this news is breaking first on LinkedIn.

"We can't say we stand for family values when so many women in this country have to jeopardize their financial security just to take a few weeks off of work after giving birth," Jarrett adds.

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This is hardly the first time Obama has thrown his weight behind paid maternity leave for working women. In fact, his Thursday announcement comes after months of campaigning, in collaboration with the Department of Labor, for the elusive paid leave that is guaranteed, essentially, worldwide.

Last September, the Obama administration released a video highlighting the embarrassing discrepancy. Text in the animated clip reiterated what worker's rights activists have been chanting for years: "The United States is the only developed nation without paid maternity leave. In fact, it's one of the only countries without any paid leave."

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, applauded the Obama administration on Wednesday for their "support of family friendly workplace policies." Ness said in a statement that the president's initiatives were the "boldest" America has seen in a generation:

They will establish new workplace standards that benefit millions of people, provide more support to help states establish their own paid leave policies, and send Congress a clear call to action to support America’s working families. This is fantastic news for workers, families and our economy.

Jarrett seemed to agree, writing on Wednesday: "The President intends to ensure that the federal government is a model employer."

Image: Eric Froehling/Unsplash, Getty Images (2), Dept. of Labor