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Why some moms go back to work 2 weeks after giving birth
While headlines nationwide trumpet companies that are expanding maternity and paternity leave, about a fourth of new mothers are back at work within two weeks, report says. - photo by Lois M Collins
While recent headlines have heralded the generous new paid parental leave policies of Netflix and Microsoft, an analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by In These Times, a nonprofit magazine, found one-fourth of American moms are back at work within two weeks.

"It's not because they recover at a supernatural pace. Or because they value their jobs over their babies," wrote Danielle Paquette of the Washington Post. "Some simply cant afford the pay cut. Buying groceries for many American women trumps resting for as long as the doctor advises. So, they go back to the office even if the C-section cuts havent yet healed or a premature baby remains in the hospital."

Roughly 13 percent of U.S. workers "have access to any form of paid family leave, which includes parental leave and other time off to care for a family member," In These Times reported. "The highest-paid workers are most likely to have it, according to BLS numbers, with more than 1 in 5 of the top 10 percent of earners getting paid family leave, compared to 1 in 20 in the bottom quartile. Unionized workers are more likely to get benefits than non-unionized workers.

"What do the rest of American women do without a law that guarantees this basic support?" the article asked, then answered: "Some new mothers who dont get paid leave quit their jobs, which can leave them desperate for income and have serious consequences in terms of work opportunities and lifetime earnings. Others may choose not to have children (though its impossible to definitively quantify how the difficulty of integrating work and childbirth factors into those decisions). And some try to stitch together their own paid leaves through accumulated vacation time and personal days, or through independently purchased insurance policies."

The Department of Health and Human Services Maternal and Child Health Bureau reported in 2008 the average length of leave taken by women who had given birth was 10 weeks. The numbers have not been updated. And although the Family Medical Leave Act allows women who qualify to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to provide care for a family member, which includes a newborn, some women fall through the cracks, according to the analysis.

It cites the example of women who had not been at the job long enough when they gave birth, sometimes due to premature delivery, and other circumstances.

Paquette wrote, "Less educated workers appeared to have it much worse: Eighty percent of college graduates took at least six weeks off to care for a new baby, and only 54 percent of women without degrees did so."

She also noted that about 43 million American employees do not have paid sick leave they can use to care for a child. "Access depends on occupation. Those with the highest salaries often enjoy the most generous benefits: 88 percent of private sector managers and financial workers enjoy paid time off, more than double the rate among service workers (40 percent) and construction workers (38 percent)."

Maternity and paternity have been getting a lot of press attention recently. Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would allow new mothers and fathers to take as much time off as they wanted during the first year after a child's birth or adoption. And USA Today reported Microsoft would increase paid leave to 12 weeks, with eight more weeks possible for moms as "paid maternity disability leave."

According to an article in the Deseret News, Fortune magazine has referred to such generous parental leave policies as a "game changer."

Christian Science Monitor and other reports say the Netflix policy will apply only to workers considered "talent," those who are highly educated and sought-after, not the average workers. Writes Robert Reich, "First, these new policies apply only to a tiny group considered talent highly educated and in high demand.

"Theyre getting whatever perks firms can throw at them in order to recruit and keep them."

The U.S. Navy has tripled maternity leave, to 18 weeks, according to USA Today.

It's not just leave expansions that are in the spotlight recently, either. The Washington Post reported that contract workers are not covered by paid parental leave policies and other benefits, although they may work full-time in jobs that look like they are employees. And some of them are challenging their status.
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