ASU's parental leave policy allows employees a paid 12-week leave to allow for recovery from childbirth, and to care for the newborn, or newly adopted child. This policy can be used for new mothers, fathers and adoptive parents.
At a glance, this policy seems more than adequate, especially when you consider the lack of federal policy we have to protect new parents. However, when you look at the bigger picture, and other nations, it becomes clear American parents need more support than they are getting from their workplaces.
In the U.S. we've seen major shifts in household structure. More mothers are working, 72% in 2018 compared to 51% in 1968, according to the Pew Research Center. Fathers are expected to take on more child care responsibilities along with working full time. Despite changes, policy in the U.S. has lagged behind.
In a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, out of 41 countries studied, the U.S. ranked last in paid leave provided to new parents. The majority of nations studied gave new parents about 20 weeks of paid leave. The United States does not require paid parental leave from employers.
The U.S. has the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers to provide eligible employees with unpaid family leave. The problem with this is it may cut new parents off from the finances they may need. Low-income families need paid parental leave so they are able to support their newborn children.
"This issue is not distinct to ASU. In this country, our parental leave and parental support policies reflect the priorities of our government," said Elizabeth Anthony, an associate professor at the School of Social Work. "Women and children, particularly low-income women and children, have not been a priority for quite some time."
The benefits of offering paid family leave are not just financially beneficial to parents and families. A study from the National Partnership for Women and Families found providing workers with at least 12 weeks of paid leave would result in 600 fewer infant deaths per year.
FMLA doesn't even cover everyone. About 44% of employees are not eligible for unpaid family leave. Employees of small businesses, part-time workers and those who have been at their place of employment for less than a year are not eligible for unpaid family leave.
The fact the U.S. still does not have paid parental leave and offers families the bare minimum shows our country is not keeping up with what its workers need. A survey by Asher & Lyric Fergusson ranked the U.S. one of the worst wealthy nations to raise a family in 2020.
Nine states and Washington, D.C. provide paid family leave, however, two-thirds of the country's workforce do not live in a place where they are offered paid family leave. Arizona does not offer paid parental leave. Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, according to Phoenix Business Journal, so our need for paid leave is only going to increase as more people start families here.
Part of me wants to commend ASU for offering its employees paid family leave in a state that does not require it. I think in this case, ASU is creating a good example other businesses should follow.
"I think we have this added benefit that we do receive 12 weeks parental leave," said Rizwana Biviji, a lecturer at the College of Health Solutions. "Which is more than double than what some of the other employers are offering."
Biviji gave birth to her daughter in July 2020 and found getting parental leave was a very smooth process. Although she did not receive the 12 weeks of paid leave, due to not having worked at ASU for 12 months, she is overall happy with the policy ASU offers.
I'm also happy it provides equal leave time to mothers and fathers, as well as adoptive parents and same-sex parents. This is a modern approach that benefits all family structures and doesn't put all child care responsibilities on the mother.
At the same time, I still think the 12 weeks ASU offers, while it is a good start, is not enough when compared to other developed nations that offer twice as much time in paid parental leave.
Despite being happy with her own experience at ASU, Biviji agrees some federal changes still need to be made.
"I do see that there is some work that needs to be done just based on advocacy efforts or policy efforts for a more federal movement towards increasing the maternity leave timespan," Biviji said. "Some of the other countries, for example, my home country, India offers up to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, and most employers are required to offer that."
Paid family leave is something that can benefit our nation's workers and parents, as well as ensure future generations are healthy and well cared for. It's obvious Arizona and the U.S. need to catch up with the times.
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Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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Haley Tenore is the editor of the State Press Opinion Desk. Tenore is also a digital reporter for Cronkite News and a co-president of the Accessibility Coalition. This is her fourth semester on the opinion desk and second semester as editor.