This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah is a state that emphasizes strengthening families. However, our current treatment of working mothers does not reflect this community value.
Former senatorial candidate Misty Snow brought the issue of paid parental leave to attention in her campaign, and I believe that continued attention is needed to institute such a policy in Utah. The U.S. is the only developed country without any form of paid parental leave.
Despite the lack of a federal policy, five U.S. states have recognized paid parental leave as a vital issue to the health and wellbeing of its citizens. New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia have now mandated partial paid parental leave for six to 12 weeks.
Utah has the highest birthrate in the nation and has the most to gain from such a policy. In support of such models, the U.S. Labor Department has been issuing grants to help states and municipalities develop paid parental leave programs which may influence future federal policy.
California has been a valuable model on the costs and benefits from such a policy. According to the California Employment Development Department, the yearly cost to employees from the paid parental leave policy is an average of $30. Similar costs to employees have been seen in New Jersey. The expense of such a policy is minimal when compared to the numerous benefits to parents, children and the community.
Paid parental leave has been shown to lead to healthier infants, higher rates of breastfeeding, improved mental health and increased long-term achievement for children. There are many diverse benefits to the nutrition, development and health of mother and child provided through breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding, meaning a mother must have access to her child most of the day for several months. This access is nearly impossible if the mother is required to return to work in 12 weeks or less. Beyond the individual benefits to families, a paid-leave policy would impact our state and our nation. The U.S. spends trillions of dollars on healthcare each year. These extreme costs could be greatly reduced by improving early childhood care and development.
Utah's current FMLA-mandated policy 12 weeks of unpaid leave is insufficient for many families. These minimal benefits do not reach mothers in poverty who may not meet the set employment qualifications. These mothers are often forced to return to work soon after giving birth because they cannot afford leave without pay. As it currently stands, nearly one in four women in the U.S. return to work within two weeks of giving birth because the leave is unpaid. Men and women alike should recognize the strain and hazard this swift return to work would be on mothers, families and businesses.
This is not a partisan issue. There is an over 70 percent majority support of paid parental leave in both political parties and among both genders. The improvements in health, employment and achievement far outweigh the minimal cost associated with the implementation of a paid parental leave policy in our state. We have so much to gain and yet, above all other considerations, we must remember that the way we, as a nation, treat our families, especially our mothers, reflects our desire for the future generation.
Laurel Peacock is a Brigham Young University student studying neuroscience and women's studies.