When Bill Clinton signed the Federal Medical Leave Act into law in 1993, it was hailed as a triumph for women and families. The FMLA permitted most workers to take three months of unpaid leave when seriously ill, or to care for a baby or sick relative. But 20 years later, optimism has been replaced with frustration as paid maternity leave in the U.S. is becoming even rarer.
The U.S., along with Swaziland, Liberia, and Papua New Guinea, are the only countries in the world that do not provide any paid maternity leave. And the number of American employers choosing to provide it as a benefit is dropping.
In 2005, 17 percent of American employers provided full pay for childbirth-related disability, but last year it was only 9 percent, according to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, and the Society for Human Resource Management, the country's largest human resources association. And increasingly, paid leave in the U.S. has become a perk for the educated class --- available mostly to workers with college degrees. Two thirds of new mothers with a bachelor's degree enjoyed some form of paid leave between 2006 and 2008, compared to just 19 percent of new mothers with less than a high school degree, according to a Census Bureau report.