Invisible Citizens

By Rahn, Sheldon L.; Burch, Hobart A. | The Humanist, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Invisible Citizens


Rahn, Sheldon L., Burch, Hobart A., The Humanist


The Children of Working Parents

Except for the United States and the United Kingdom, paid parental leave legislation is well established among developed nations, including Canada and most European countries. Infant day care, unless it is conveniently available at the mother s place of work, is not an adequate substitute for a mother s presence and care of newborns and infants in the early months. For working women from middle- and low-income households, paid maternal and family leave legislation is essential. At stake is an effective promotion of mental health and emotional well-being in the population and the prevention of child behavior disasters, anxious hyperactivity, delinquency, and crime. The United States is behind the curve.

The United States has had its current unpaid for three months legislation only since February 5, 1993 (after eight years of debate), and the United Kingdom only since December 15, 1999. Canada, on the other hand, has bad a nationally mandated and paid leave for six months program since 1971. And beginning January 2001, Canadian benefits are available to the mother for fifteen weeks and to the father or the mother for an additional thirty-five weeks, which, with available individual adjustments, will provide paid benefits for one full year.

The Canadian program is funded as part of the federal unemployment insurance program at 55 percent of insured earnings. In 2001, any mother who has been employed for at least twelve hours a week or 600 hours in the previous year will be eligible for benefits. Fringe benefits accumulate and a return to the previous job or equivalent is guaranteed. Part-time work while on leave is permitted. The father or the mother can then spend all or part of the day at home during the child's first year. Part-time earnings are permitted and reduce the maximum $413 a week Employment Insurance (EI) benefit on a formula basis. If such earnings exceed 125 percent of a particular individual's benefit rate, no EI benefit is paid at all.

A 1999 Council of Europe report affirms that two countries--Germany and Hungary--have legislation providing paid pregnancy and parental leave care for up to three years. Paid leave for up to two years is available in Austria and Rumania. Other European Community states--including Spain, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden--provide paid leave, but for less than two years.

The purpose of earlier unpaid maternity leave legislation was to guarantee a working mother the right to return to the same job. In contrast, the purpose of the newer paid leave legislation has been to enable both parents to make their unique contributions to the growth and development of their children in the first months and years.

Infant day care is not an adequate substitute for a reasonable period of bonding between the child and the mother or father for several months at home. The foundations of mental health and a contented rather than hyperactive child are at stake. Dr. Steve Wisensale, a professor of public policy and family studies at the University of Connecticut, reported in the April 17, 2000, Baltimore Sun that, in the U.S. population, nearly 50 percent of all mothers with children under the age of one are working.

Dad can give emotional and home support to Mom by being a good husband, sharing nurturing responsibilities such as feeding and changing, and by demonstrating healthy social attributes and a capacity for shared decision-making. The more recent development in family leave legislation to include the father as well as the mother (hence the term parental leave) is, therefore, highly relevant. For millions of couples these days, relatives live too far away to help out on a day-to-day basis.

The fact that current national leave legislation in the United States is unpaid, little used, and only for three months may have other implications as well. According to a study reported by Jane Brody in the August 3, 1999, New York Times, in 1957, 92 percent of all children were toilet trained by eighteen months (1. …

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