NY Times Reporter: US Should Back Up Pride in 'Family Values,' Require Paid Family Leave

New York Times personal finance reporter Tara Siegel Barnard would love the U.S. to embrace Europe's cradle-to-grave safety net mind-set, lumping America with apparently inferior countries like Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea for the sin of not offering paid maternity leave. Barnard made the argument in Saturday's Business section, in her first column since returning from maternity leave, "In Paid Family Leave, U.S. Trails Most of the Globe."

There I was, on the day my six months of maternity leave had ended, pushing my son’s stroller with one hand, clutching a jumbo box of 174 diapers with the other, doing my best to navigate through piles of slushy snow.

It was time for his first day of day care, my time at home over in a blink.

Still, I knew I was relatively fortunate. The first eight weeks of my leave were paid, and I had tacked on another three weeks of paid vacation. Plus, my employer permits workers to take up to six months of unpaid leave.

A large majority of new parents in this country are not so lucky. It is no secret that when it comes to paid parental leave, the United States is among the least generous in the world, ranking down with the handful of countries that don’t offer any paid leave at all, among them Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea.

The American situation hasn’t materially improved since the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law 20 years ago this month by President Clinton. The law requires larger employers and public agencies to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave -- as well as continuation of health benefits -- for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an opposite-sex spouse, a parent or a child who has fallen ill (or to deal with your own health problem).


Despite the myriad benefits of paid leaves, the number of employers that offer the time off is dismal. “We know maternity leave is associated with lower infant mortality rates,” said Jody Heymann, dean of the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the new book “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving.”

Barnard lurched to the left when she equated fuzzily defined "family values" to a federal requirement that companies offer pay even when no work is being done:

While the United States takes great pride in its family values, it is the only high-income country that does not offer a paid leave program. (Eight countries in all don’t offer the benefit, according to Dr. Heymann’s research.) Most of Europe and Central Asia -- or 38 of 53 countries -- provide 26 weeks or more of paid leave for mothers, according to Dr. Heymann’s research. “Twenty years ago there were a few other advanced economies that did not yet provide paid leave, and now, the U.S. is entirely isolated,” she said.

Barnard also embraces government-run health care. On March 22, 2010, after Obama-care was passed, Bernard took for granted the multitude of benefits to flow from Obama's health "reform" legislation, with hardly a mention of the negative outcomes, like tax hikes or limitations on care: "...just about everyone might benefit from tighter insurance regulations....But there is no question that the legislation should benefit consumers in various ways."

-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.