US Lags In Family Laws; Leads In Freedom

The AP is reporting that the US is far behind other nations when it comes to family-leave legislation.

The United States lags far behind virtually all wealthy countries with regard to family-oriented workplace policies such as maternity leave, paid sick days and support for breast-feeding, a new study by Harvard and McGill University researchers says.

The new data comes as politicians and lobbyists wrangle over whether to scale back the existing federal law providing unpaid family leaves or to push new legislation allowing paid leaves.

The study, officially being issued Thursday, says workplace policies for families in the United States are weaker than those of all high-income countries and many middle- and low-income countries. Notably, it says the U.S. is one of only five countries out of 173 in the survey that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave; the others are Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

“More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of,” said the study’s lead author, Jody Heymann, founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families and director of McGill’s Institute for Health and Social Policy.

I hate to bring up the “love it or leave it” idea, but there are 168 of 173 countries in this world that offer these “protections” that so many Americans are dreaming of, and yet it is America that has high economic growth (for a developed nation) and people who just dream of leaving their own shores and immigrating here. France’s bloated welfare state is in dire need of workers, so I’m sure those people who dream of workplace “protections” could take up residence there.

I’d like to say that American has chosen a completely different path, one of liberty and freedom of contract. One where we choose to allow workers and employers to decide what benefits are and are not necessary. But then I woke up. American laws haven’t always been completely pro-liberty. But we do have one feature here, which I would consider an advantage, but which makes it very easy to attack us on these grounds. We’re a federal system, where these decisions are left to individual states rather than mandated from above.

Fathers are granted paid paternity leave or paid parental leave in 65 countries, including 31 offering at least 14 weeks of paid leave. The U.S. guarantees fathers no such paid leaves.

At least 107 countries protect working women’s right to breast-feed; the breaks are paid in at least 73 of them. The U.S. does not have federal legislation guaranteeing the right to breast-feed at work.

At least 145 countries provide paid sick days, with 127 providing a week or more annually. The U.S. provides unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers; there is no federal law providing for paid sick days.

At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week. The U.S. does not have a maximum work week length or a limit on mandatory overtime per week.

It’s easy to say that the US government doesn’t guarantee these things, and leave the impression in your readers’ minds that these things do not occur in the US. And in some states, that would be the case. In some states, there is very little legislation guaranteeing these sorts of “rights”. In others, though, a state will rank right up there with the “enlightened”.

That doesn’t change the fact that these laws are an infringement on freedom. But it’s easy to paint with a broad brush when you’re trying to compare a system which isn’t designed to be centrally planned, a system where we attempt to let competition between the various states show what system is better.

If the United States were operating anything like its federal, Constitutional design, these sorts of criticisms would hold no weight. People would see the true decisions being made at the state level, with the central government as merely a facilitator of cooperation and an arbitrater of disputes. Such a simple article, trying to talk about the United States as if we should be handling such decisions at the federal level, would be laughable.

But unfortunately, it’s not. The United States has long abandoned federalism, and our state governments have become the laughable, ignored entities. Now, when citizens want to enforce rules which infringe on other people’s rights, they head straight to the top, and expect the federal government to do it for them. Family-leave legislation is an infringement on the rights of workers and employers to set their own terms of contract. Because we haven’t completely allowed our federal government to infringe everyone’s freedom, we still have at least a few moderately free states left. It’s too bad that those states are dwindling, and even worse that the AP is actively lobbying for their demise.

  • Myrtle

    I first heard this news on NPR and it came as close to making my head explode as any I’ve heard in a while.

    The “family friendly” analysis ought also to take into consideration the salaries paid. My husband’s job doesn’t offer paid leave time but because of his generous employer we are able to afford many, many luxuries that the average European doesn’t seem to have. The big house and the multiple cars is pretty darn “family friendly” to me.