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Half of Working Women Don’t Get Paid Maternity Benefits

Alexandra Grablewski

It’s no secret that the U.S. lags behind many countries in its maternity benefits policies, but figures from a recent Census Bureau report are depressing all the same. Just half of working moms who had their first child between 2006 and 2008 (the most recent years for which figures are available) received some kind of paid leave (including maternity, sick or vacation time) while the rest did not, reports the Associated Press (AP).

Plus: Readers Open Up About Their Maternity Leave Experiences

The findings were released in the report Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns of First-Time Mothers: 1961-2008, which analyzes trends in women’s work experience before their first baby, their maternity leave arrangements before and after the birth, and studies how quickly they returned to work. The figures actually mark an increase from the 42 percent of working moms who received paid leave between 1996 and 2000. 

Plus: After Maternity Leave, Is Part-Time the Answer?

Many women may assume that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act entitles them to some form of paid maternity leave, but in fact it merely enables workers with new children or seriously ill family members to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. And even that excludes companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Indeed, for an expectant mother in the recession, access to paid leave is limited, according to Lynda Laughlin, a Census Bureau family demographer. The likelihood of a working first-time mommy to receive paid leave greatly depends on age, hours worked and education. Approximately 24 percent of women under age 22 used paid leave, while 61 percent of women 25 and older made use of it. Women employed full-time were more likely to use paid-leave benefits than part-time workers (56 percent and 21 percent, respectively). And women who have not graduated from high school are less likely to use paid maternity leave as women who have graduated from college.

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“The last three decades showed major changes in the work patterns of expectant moms,” said Laughlin. Sixty-six percent of women who had their first child between 2006 and 2008 worked while pregnant in comparison to the 42 percent who had their first child between 1961 and 1965. Of those who continued to work while pregnant, about 88 percent worked into the last trimester, while 65 percent worked into the last month of pregnancy. And talk about a quick return to work: 82 percent of working women who had their first baby between 2006 and 2008 worked within a month of the birth, compared with 73 percent of working moms who had their first baby between 1991 and 1995. Unsurprisingly, working moms who are denied paid maternity leave are more likely to return to work quickly after giving birth, which can take away from much needed bonding with Junior.   

Plus: The Surprising Reality of Maternity Leave

“For working families where the norm now is for both mom and dad to work, not having some kind of paycheck coming in while they take time to take care of a child can be a real financial burden,” Laughlin told the AP. 

Did you work while pregnant? If so, did you return to work after the birth of your first child? When?