On Mother’s Day, Let’s Remember How Far Behind America Is in Taking Care of Moms

Today is Mother’s Day, a day to appreciate the women who carried us, brought us into this world and nurtured us. Americans celebrate the day with flowers and cards and brunches and all the tokens of respect that can only provide a shadow of thanks for all that was done for us.

But in typical fashion, Americans have a funny hypocrisy when it comes to actually embracing policies that would benefit mothers. Conservative states are rolling back protections for women to be able to choose and how when they decide to become pregnant. And mothers (and fathers) in America are still denied the paid family leave that other industrialized countries accept as a matter of course:

In the United States, new parents aren’t guaranteed any paid time off. Instead, if they have worked for a certain amount of time at a company with 50 or more employees, they are guaranteed the ability to take 12 unpaid weeks off for the arrival of a new child.

That leaves us in lonely company. Out of 185 countries, the United States is one of just three that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, the others being Oman and Papua New Guinea. Over half of the countries that provide leave give at least 14 weeks off…

In the U.S., just 12 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. Worse, less than half of all workers are covered by unpaid leave, giving them few options when they have a new child. A quarter of women either quit their jobs or are let go when a new child arrives, and of those who get only partial pay or nothing at all, a third borrow money and/or dip into savings while 15 percent go on public assistance.

That is a gross miscarriage of justice. Clinton and Sanders have their differences on how to pay for their family leave programs, but both Democrats are clear that the United States needs to catch up to at least the baseline of the rest of the industrialized world. It’s unconscionable that the wealthiest nation in the history of the world doesn’t have a guaranteed social insurance plan to allow new parents to care for themselves and the newest members of their families.

It’s not just paid family leave and new moms, either. The pre-kindergarten years are incredibly expensive for child care in the United States, which is nearly alone among industrialized nations in having no universal social insurance policy for this time.

We also expect parents to have to set aside large portions of their income for “college savings,” or else burden their children with the prospect of huge student debt.

Our employment system grants a standard two-week vacation, which any parent knows isn’t remotely enough to deal with all the days needed to take the time to deal with child-related emergencies and still be able to get away long enough to recharge for a whole year.

On the whole, America’s barbaric conservative policies toward families are brutal for parents and mothers in particular.

Let’s remember that on Mother’s Day, and spend a least a part of day strengthening our resolve to make this be the last year in which we must be ashamed to remain so far behind other less wealthy countries in doing more for moms than just giving them cards, flowers and lip service.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.