We all know it.
It turns out it sucks worst here in the United States, especially for women, and most especially for women with families, it seems.
“Did you know that 138 nations mandate vacation time by law? But, one of them isn’t the ‘Republic of here,'” said Bill Maher on the June 15, 2012 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.
He went on to note that “in England, you get 28 paid vacation days a year. In Switzerland, you get 20. In Sweden, you get 25.” Currently, I have “earned” 10 vacation days for the next year (July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013). I have so few because I have had vacation days deducted from those “earnings” since I opted to take a maternity leave within the past work cycle.
But, it seems as though I was even lucky to have been afforded the privilege of taking unpaid maternity leave and being charged with sick, vacation and personal days in the process. Many other new mothers don’t even get that. And, I appear to be enormously fortunate and in the vast minority in the fact that I even get those 10 vacation days at all.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child. The FMLA applies to both men and women and is also available for those that adopt a child. If the parents work for the same company, the 12 weeks is then divided between the two of them and is an accumulation of both of their time (i.e.,. each could take 6 weeks off; one could take 4 weeks while the other takes 8 weeks). There are exceptions to the FMLA which release a business from the obligation of allowing unpaid time off. These exceptions include the size of the company (less than 50 employees), the time of employment (at least 12 months), and level of wages (top 10%). Employees with incomes that account for the top 10% of wages for the business may not have access to the unpaid benefit if the company can show with evidence that your absence creates significant financial harm to the organization.”
This has me wondering whether this is a convenient way for companies to legally discriminate in their practices. Certainly, it cannot be a matter of official record, but if a company employs 55 people and feels as though it cannot “afford” to allow women time off to undergo a major medical experience, would it not be better served by hiring only men?
One might argue that times are tough and women can always refuse to accept a position with any company whose policies do not meld well with their personal beliefs, medical needs, or family interests. In other words, we can just say to women, “If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.” Interestingly, men don’t have any equivalent I can see where they might be told something similar.
Here’s where it gets worse. According to a report on Forbes.com in 2009, “more than half of U.S. companies employ fewer than 50 people.” So, just going and finding somewhere else that jives better with your family needs doesn’t seem that possible all of the time, then.
How is the United States, a country that takes such pride in its focus on equity, social justice and civil rights, among the few who still treat women as second-class citizens who must choose between their personal and professional lives? The following may be surprising. Here are a few countries with longer maternity leave options for their workers: Belarus, Cambodia, Chad, China, Congo, Egypt, Iran, Thailand and Zimbabwe.
CHINA?! Don’t they have some of the worst human rights policies on the planet? And, yet, they mandate more maternity leave for women.
Recently, The New York Times reported: “Canada and the United States may share a border, a language and much cultural affinity, but if women face broadly similar situations in terms of education and economic opportunity in the two countries, they are far apart in the area of gender equality, the experts said.”
It also reported that “last month a report by Save the Children suggested that America is one of the worst places to be a mother among rich countries, pointing to what it said were one of the highest maternal mortality rates and worst breastfeeding environments among developed countries.”
Craptacular. So, if we survive (which we are less likely to do here than in a host of other industrialized nations), we are still subject to a lifetime of over-work and low pay. In fact, the Government Accountability Office concluded that men statistically receive earning boosts after having children while women receive significant losses at the same lifepoints. They also concluded that still after 20+ years of this pervading statistic, women still earn a mere 80% of men’s average salaries — 80 cents to every man’s dollar.
This all leaves the US as one of the worst places to be a working woman and mother who believes in equity and fairness and who values family time.
In 2011, Marie Claire reported that “a 2005 report by the World Economic Forum found [Sweden] to be the world’s ‘most advanced country’ for women, with greater levels of equality, power, health, and well-being among women than anywhere else. (The survey ranked the U.S. an abysmal 17th place — one above Costa Rica.)” The article went on to note that “Sweden, which has a population of 9 million — around the same as the state of New Jersey — has a long history of female-friendly policies. The government gave women equal rights to inherit property way back in 1845; in 1901, it introduced the world’s first formalized maternity-leave program. In 1958, the Swedish Lutheran church changed its doctrine to permit women to become priests. And today, female politicians make up around half of the Swedish parliament.” In the US, women make up just 17% of the Senate and just shy of 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives.
Again, though, it doesn’t all just suck for women, though it sucks for us the worst. But, it seems as though everyone in this country is getting shafted. The Denver Post says, “Blue-collar workers get five days of paid leave after one year of service, and 23 percent of Americans get no paid vacation whatsoever, the 2006 statistics showed.” NO. VACATION. WHATSOEVER. Wha?
“Experts said the lack of vacation stems in part from an American obsession with work as a form of defining one’s identity,” The Denver Post article continued, “whereas European and Asian cultures enjoy longer vacations and define themselves by familial or national affiliations.”
So, again, I see a trend. Americans must choose between family and work. People just about everywhere else do not. Because they out-earn their female counterparts statistically by 20%, men often do not face such decisions in this country where women still do.
And, of the work we all do, Americans are working harder for their money, to boot. An article on 20somethingfinance.com said in 2010: “At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.”
So, let me see if I have this straight: women in the US work longer hours, for less money, less vacation time, less maternity leave time and fewer cultural perks than workers just about everywhere else on the globe?
Is it time to do something about this? I’d love to hear what you think.