July 07, 2014

Anxiously Expecting:
South Carolina is a shitty place to be a working mom

Only three federal laws currently protect working mothers in the United States: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and a provision of the 2010 healthcare reform act that expands the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to protect working mothers who breastfeed.

Some states improve upon these laws with additional legislation. Seventeen states don't.

Guess where we are? Mmmmhm.

South Carolina is currently ranked the fifth worst state to live in for working mothers. South Carolina was graded a "F" in the "Expecting Better" report put out by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Here's a run down of the information and why paid maternity leave is important--for everyone, not just women.

How Is South Carolina Ranked So Low?

South Carolina provides no expanded protections for new and expanding parents.

According to BLR:
South Carolina does not have a state law that specifically requires employers to offer pregnancy leave. However, the South Carolina Human Affairs Law (which covers employers with 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year) requires employers to provide the same leave benefits to women disabled by pregnancy as are provided to other employees with temporary disabilities. This means that employers can provide leave for employees with temporary disabilities, including pregnancy disability, with or without pay, or not provide it at all, as long as all employees are treated the same in their requests for temporary disability leave.
The legislation clearly favors employers--who can choose to offer leave or not--over families and parents.

Wallet Hub's John S. Kiernan looked at specific areas related to working moms. South Carolina ranked 48 out of 51 for childcare, which was affordable but of low quality; 31 out of 51 for professional opportunities, which looked at the gender pay gap and ration of female to male executives; and 38 out of 51 for work-life balance, which looked at parental leave, length of the average workday, and average commute time.

South Carolina also fails to address breastfeeding mothers in the workplace:
"Twenty-five states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace. (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.)

Why Is Paid Maternity Leave Important?

The United States holds the illustrious position as one of the only nations in the world--and perhaps the only industrialized nation--that fails to offer any paid maternity leave at all. For comparison, Pakistan requires eight weeks.

As Lisa Belkin pointed out on the Huffington Post, studies on maternity leave "have concluded...that longer leave is linked to better long-term health for children and lower-rates of depression in mothers."

Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune mentioned that:
A new report out of Rutgers University presents overwhelming evidence of the benefits of giving parents access to paid time off when a child comes along. It makes for healthier babies, more workers returning to the job post-maternity leave and, of course, stronger families.

Huppke also brought up the effect of paid maternity in the two states that currently have it--New Jersey and California--on public assistance:
In states with no paid leave, nearly a quarter of new moms received an average of $749 in public aid in the year after giving birth. Only 10 percent of new moms in states with paid leave received assistance, and the amount was $358." 
So paid maternity leave offers better health for mothers and children, increases employee retention, and lowers the burden of public assistance.

Personally, that sounds like a whole round of #Winning to me, folks.

There's also a significant difference in infant mortality between the two states mentioned and South Carolina. While I'm a firm believer that correlation does not equal causation, it's large enough to bear mentioning. In South Carolina, infant mortality sits at 7.23 per 1,000 live births. In California and New Jersey, that figure is 4.84 and 4.23, respectively. Now, I'm most certainly not claiming a link between the two--but I definitely think it's something that bears future investigation.  For reference, Canada, which offers maternity insurance, is at 5 per 1,000 live births.

Why Is Current Legislation Inadequate?

Let's start by looking at the different federal legislation pieces in involved.

The oldest by far is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. This act amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, by expanding the terminology of "based on sex" or "basis of sex" to included pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, as explained by Wikipedia:
FMLA United States federal law requiring covered employers to provide employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Qualified medical and family reasons include: personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption, or the foster care placement of a child.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act expanded employee protection in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to include breastfeeding mothers. Specifically, employers that are subject to the regulations have to provide reasonable break time and a private are that is not a bathroom.

 Why is this inadequate? Well, consider just the eligibility requirements for the FMLA:
In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past twelve months, and work at a location where the company employees 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
 A part-time employee, working 20 hours a week, would only work 1,040 hours in a year. The FMLA simply isn't broad enough.

Our friend Huppke pointed out that:
...according tot he Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11 percent of private-sector workers and 17 percent of public-sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.
According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, less than 50 percent of workers are eligible for protection under the FMLA, and fewer still can afford to take the time off.

Working and raising a family is tough. We need legislation that supports families, allows parents time to bond, and gives women a chance to heal after childbirth. In a country that pats itself on the back for defending family values, I find it shocking that these principles are so hard to enact.

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