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Last Week Tonight host John Oliver blasted America's maternity leave policy on Sunday's show for being the weakest outside of Papua New Guinea.
"In America, there is nothing we wouldn't do for moms — apart from one major thing," Oliver said. And that is paid maternity leave.
Oliver is right that America's maternity leave policies fall far short compared with the rest of the world. The US, in fact, is the only wealthy country that has no nationwide paid leave policy for mothers at all, as this map from the UCLA World Policy Analysis Center shows:
Oliver pointed out that America does provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. But these protections are so limited — they exempt small employers and require workers to have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year — that they don't cover more than 40 percent of private-sector employees.
Last Mother's Day, a video from Cardstore.com went viral. In it, the company pretended to recruit for a seemingly impossible job. They told applicants that the job requires you to stand all day and put in 135 hours a week — or more. It means you have to work nights and weekends. There's no time off, and the hours increase around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays. The position requires skill in finance, medicine ,and food preparation. It entails intense physical labor and a total collapse in your personal life. Oh, and it pays absolutely nothing.
They called the job director of operations, but its real title, of course, is mom.
Cardstore sent the video out into the world with the hashtag #WorldsToughestJob. But here's the thing about the world's toughest job: a lot of the people doing it also hold another job, or even a few other jobs. More than two-thirds of mothers hold jobs outside the home, and mothers are the primary earners in 40 percent of families. But in America, public policy makes balancing those jobs a lot harder than it has to be.
America is, for instance, one of the only countries in the world that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave. This map from UCLA's World Policy Analysis Center tells the tale well: our maternal leave policies make us look more like Papua New Guinea than, say, any country in Western Europe:
Of course, it would be easier for mothers to balance work inside and outside the home if fathers could spend more time parenting. But public policy is even less friendly to that prospect:
Sweden is an example of what it looks like when a country really believes that being a parent is a difficult and important job that needs to be supported by public policy. The country guarantees parents 480 paid days per child. Those days can be allocated as the parents see fit until the child is 8 years old. In order to encourage fathers to take on more parenting responsibilities, 60 of those days are specifically given to the father.