Where’s our paid leave?

Scott Jagow Feb 1, 2007
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Where’s our paid leave?

Scott Jagow Feb 1, 2007
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

SCOTT JAGOW: A study out this morning says the U.S. is far behind other wealthy countries when it comes to family-oriented work policies. Sick leave, maternity leave for example. We talked to one of the researchers on this, Jody Heymann at McGill University.

JODY HEYMANN: We have data on 173 countries, that’s almost the entire world. 168 of those countries guarantee paid leave for women once they have a child. The only other countries besides the United States that don’t have it: Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland, that’s it. No other industrialized countries, no other affluent countries are as far behind on this as the U.S.

JAGOW: And why is that the case?

HEYMANN: It’s an excellent question, why that’s the case I don’t think anybody really knows. There’s some who would argue that we’ve had a private-sector experiment in the United States to see if companies would voluntarily do this and indeed some excellent companies have but not enough have. So the majority of Americans don’t have paid maternity leave. It’s been too hard for companies to offer it if the company down the street doesn’t.

JAGOW: OK so we have the maternity issue. Where else is the U.S. falling short?

HEYMANN: In the United States if you get sick, you have no right to take off time from work. We send people to work sick, with the flu, with infections that spread to others. People lose their jobs over it, they lose their pay. But in a 145 countries around the world, you get paid leave for short- or long-term illnesses. 127 of these give a week or more a year. 137 countries offer paid annual leave,121 of those two weeks or more. You put this all together, the overwhelming majority of the world does have at least three weeks annual leave and sick leave combined. The United States has not one day paid.

JAGOW: Now we’re talking here about federal law. How much are states picking up the slack and how much is the private sector picking up the slack?

HEYMANN: Let’s take sick leave as an example. About half the states have legislation to try to pass paid sick leave. In fact, the only state that right now has it is California. So most of the country doesn’t have it by state policy yet. Is the private sector picking up the slack? Not enough, unfortunately. Half of middle-class Americans can’t rely on paid sick leave. They have it some of the time, they have other jobs where they don’t have it. Three-quarters of low-income Americans can’t rely on paid sick leave.

JAGOW: So, any countries stand out to you in this report?

HEYMANN: Switzerland, Finland, Sweden. They all have far better policies in these areas. Just to give examples on the paid sick leave, Switzerland you can have up to two years if you include sort of a disability insurance plus what companies give. Looking at maternity, you’d see it across those countries. Looking at the most competitive economies, they’re able to do it and able to provide these benefits.

JAGOW: OK Jody thanks so much.

HEYMANN: Thank you very much.

JAGOW: Jody Heymann is director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy.

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