Goodness gracious. The media flurry around the hiring of Marissa Mayer by Yahoo, the fact that she’s a she, and that she is also pregnant surely belies the lingering issue that remains inside C-Suite America – where are the women? Fair enough. Now there is a big brouhaha from many sides because Mayer told Fortune that she would work through her short maternity leave, which will only last a few weeks. Bottom line. It’s her choice.
What does not go unnoticed is the large number of expectant parents who DO NOT have a choice. This is the vast population of workers who are not covered by FMLA; those who work at small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Choosing unemployment is a laughable option, as few of these working parents have the necessary economic reserves. And, herein lies the conundrum.
Not surprisingly, there are health benefits for employees and their families associated with paid leave programs.
In “Policy Matters: Public Policy, Paid Leave for New Parents, and Economic Security for U.S. Workers,” Linda Houser and Thomas P. Vartanian found that paid family leave reduces the likelihood of premature birth, improves breastfeeding establishment and duration and increases the chances of obtaining well baby care, in addition to improving the health of both mothers and children and decreasing health care costs in the longer term. “Access to paid leave has also been linked to families’ economic security and independence,” the authors observed.
Valerie Young, a contributor to Woman in Washington, writes that “access to paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child reduces the likelihood that a family will be forced to resort to public support or food stamps.” High-ranking officials like Mayer have the edge on middle and lower-income families, Young adds, because their employers often offer paid parental leave. That’s why establishing a national paid leave policy is so important.
Note: Mayer is lucky; she lives in California, one of two states (New Jersey being the other) in the United States that has a paid family leave program where employees may take up to six weeks of paid leave through a program financed entirely through small payroll tax contributions.