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New Investigative Report Reveals Devastating Effects of the Lack of Paid Family Leave on U. S. Mothers

New Investigative Report Reveals Devastating Effects of the Lack of Paid Family Leave on U. S. Mothers

August 18, 2015

Data analyzed for the report shows 1 in 4 women return to work within two weeks of childbirth

CHICAGO—In These Times magazine today released a groundbreaking investigative report by journalist Sharon Lerner, “The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Family Leave Now,” that reveals the staggering costs of returning to work within weeks or days of childbirth. Ellen Bravo from Family Values @ Work, New York paid family leave activist Blue Carreker, and Matthew Melmed from Zero to Three joined Lerner today on a press call to discuss the urgent need for paid family leave legislation in the United States.

The U.S. is currently the only major country in the world where mothers aren’t guaranteed paid leave after childbirth—forcing many to return to work before they are ready. Only 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and those who do are much more likely to be in high-income jobs.

Lerner’s report profiles mothers around the country who returned to work soon after childbirth, and describes in heartbreaking detail the mental and physical toll of juggling a job and a newborn.

“Without adequate options or support, low-income workers, who are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck and less likely to have access to any type of leave, often have little choice but to power through,” says Lerner. “Often, that means not just going back to work early, but going back to work very long work hours, very early.”

Lerner shared the story of one of the mothers profiled in the report, Natasha Long, on how she returned to her factory job just three weeks after giving birth. Because her employer had no lactation room, Long had to pump breast milk in her truck during her lunch break. Long was eventually diagnosed with depression—a condition whose likelihood is reduced by maternity leave.

“I was working 12 hours. I’d nurse him at night. I’d have to go out to my truck and pump. I’d pump in the truck and then take the milk to the break room and store it in the freezer,” says Long of her experience. “I felt like I was alone. I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.”

An original analysis of Department of Labor data by the research firm Abt Associates for the In These Times report shows that, in a sample of 93 new mothers, nearly one in four women returned to work within just two weeks of childbirth.

“This report signals a national emergency, one that demands immediate attention,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work. “Right now, millions of workers who become parents, develop serious health conditions, or have seriously ill family members are forced to choose between providing care or having the income they need to cover basic expenses. No nation that values families can allow a quarter of all employed mothers to return to work before they have time to heal, much less bond with their new infants. Guaranteeing access to paid family leave for all workers is a commonsense policy and touches the very core of family economic security.”

Paid family leave has many proven benefits: higher employment rates for women, lower poverty rates among mothers and children, and higher survival rates for newborns. A University of Virginia study found that a 50-week extension in paid leave was associated with a 20 percent drop in infant deaths.

After decades of advocacy, it appears the tide is turning: Momentum is building behind paid family leave legislation. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have already passed laws providing paid family leave. Since March, at least 10 paid family leave proposals have been introduced in other states. And the issue is gaining steam in the build-up to the 2016 elections. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have made paid family leave a key plank in their campaigns.

“This issue is about the wellbeing of parents and their children, and we’re finally starting to see elected leaders respond to our call for legislation that allows parents the time to care for and bond with new children or to take care of sick family members without facing financial catastrophe,” said Blue Carreker, an organizer with the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign and Campaigns Manager with Citizen Action of New York, where paid family leave is expected to pass in 2016.

This report serves as a wake-up call about the urgent need for the U.S. to call off the war on working families and join the rest of the world in providing paid family leave.

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Sharon Lerner is an award-winning investigative journalist living in Brooklyn. She is the author of “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation” and covers health, the environment and other issues affecting children and families.

About In These Times
In These Times, an independent, nonprofit magazine, is dedicated to advancing democracy and economic justice, informing movements for a more humane world, and providing an accessible forum for debate about the policies that shape our future. A strong democracy depends on healthy debate, and In These Times is one of only a handful of independent media projects fighting to widen the terms of national discussion. Over the last 38 years, In These Times has distinguished itself by producing high-quality journalism that treats women, communities of color, working people and other groups ignored by the mainstream media as legitimate audiences, sources and subjects for the news. “The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Family Leave Now,” was published thanks to the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. http://inthesetimes.com/

About Family Values @ Work
Family Values @ Work is a national network of 21 state and local coalitions helping spur the growing movement for family-friendly workplace policies such as paid sick days and family leave insurance. Coalitions represent a diverse, nonpartisan group of more than 2,000 grassroots organizations, ranging from restaurant owners to restaurant workers, faith leaders to public health professionals, think tanks to activists for children, seniors and those with disabilities. Formed in 2003, Family Values @ Work coalitions have helped win paid sick days victories so far in 21 cities and four states; family leave insurance laws in New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island; and paid parental leave passed (but not yet implemented) in Washington State. These local and state wins are improving the lives of 27 million workers and their families and building national momentum for policies that value families at work. http://familyvaluesatwork.org

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