Unhappy Father’s Day! Paid Paternity Leave Far From Reality in United States

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Times' weekly updates.


  Many of the young fathers who celebrated Father's Day on Sunday are more interested than ever in taking an active care-giving and social role in their children's lives, according to studies cited in a new report by the National Partnership for Women and Families. But especially in the tight economy, relatively few fathers have access to paid family leave after the birth of a child or when a child is sick, and too few fathers even have unpaid job-protected leave to deal with family emergencies and responsibilities.

The Partnership's report, "Dads Expect Better: Top States for New Dads," evaluates state laws beyond the federal requirements of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) implemented in 1993, which guarantees a certain amount of unpaid leave for employees with more than 1,250 hours of service at workplaces with at least 50 employees. In May, the Partnership released "Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents."


The report on fathers paints a dire picture of the paltry paid and unpaid leave afforded parents. It also makes the case that more family leave for fathers helps women and children and even society as a whole, citing studies that show when fathers (and mothers) get better leave, families are less likely to need public assistance. 

It notes that fathers are better able to share household and caregiving duties with women when they have more leave and job protection, which can lessen the work and earning inequities between men and women and help children have closer relationships with their fathers and better role models for gender equity. The report cites longitudinal evidence that fathers who could take paid leave immediately after a child's birth remained more involved in their lives down the line. 

Family leave is of course also especially important to single working fathers, who like single mothers can often be in the painful and terrifying position of losing a badly needed job or wages when a child is sick. The report found fathers report more conflict between their work and family life than before, in fact at higher rates than women report conflict, perhaps because of men's increasing desire to be involved with their children.

The report notes that only the District of Columbia and Connecticut guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days. It says the United States ranks among the middle of 21 highly competitive countries in the amount of leave granted to new fathers, with 12 unpaid weeks mandated under the FMLA.

However, on average, men take only 10.4 weeks of unpaid leave, and many cannot afford unpaid leave at all. Even the best employers typically don't offer more than three weeks of paid paternity leave, with the amount declining since 2005. That compares to 31 countries that guarantee or offer 14 weeks or more of paid paternity leave.

After California implemented the nation's first paternity leave insurance program in 2005, the amount of leave fathers took almost tripled from three to eight weeks, and the likelihood they would take leave at all more than doubled to three-quarters. Ratings for the social acceptability of taking paternity leave also climbed. Along with California, New Jersey also has a family leave insurance program covering mothers and fathers. Studies show a significant majority of Americans support expanded paternity and maternity and family leave rights.

The report ranks the District of Columbia and the 14 states that do offer guaranteed family-leave rights for fathers on factors including the amount of paid and unpaid job-protected leave, whether leave laws cover small businesses or newer employees not covered under the FMLA  and whether fathers can take leave to care for a same-sex or domestic partner's child. The District of Columbia ranked first, followed by Connecticut and New Jersey in second place, then California. Maine, Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Tennessee, Maryland and Minnesota also joined the list.

"Despite the imperative -- for workers and families, for businesses and for communities -- to adapt our nation's policies to the realities of the  21st century workforce, progress is painfully slow," the report notes. "The arrival of a child should be cause for celebration. For millions of parents throughout the United States, however, a child's birth or adoption means stretched finances and unsettling concerns about whether caring for their child will cost them their jobs and jeopardize their families' financial security."

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.