A report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco noted a decline in labor force participation among men and women in the United States between the ages of 25 and 50 over the last two decades. The study also suggested that Canada may have a solution to our problem: adopt better parental leave policies.
Many of the parental leave policies practiced in Canada currently were first created in the ‘70’s, and protections have continued to expand over the years. Such policies include reducing the marginal tax rate of a household’s second earner, thus encouraging households to have two working members instead of just one. Canada also offers subsidized child care, which has made it even easier for mothers to remain in the workforce. By providing these protections, more parents living in Canada are able to raise families and continue working.
The United States is one of very few industrialized countries that does not have a national parental leave policy in place. To help address this lack, some individual companies and states have adopted paid parental leave policies of their own. Unfortunately, because parental leave is still viewed as being more of a privilege than a right, some managers form negative views of women who take leave even at companies that have extended maternity leave benefits in place. According to a recent study from the Journal of Applied Psychology, women who make use of extended maternity leave are seen as being less serious about their jobs by their managers. This unfortunate perception leads to women being passed over for career advancement opportunities. Instituting a national policy for maternity leave would make the practice of using leave more acceptable because it would become more normalized.
Another way to ensure that more people enter and remain in the workforce would be to provide fathers with extended, paid leave as well. This practice would both give fathers time to bond with their children and ease the burden of caring for a new child alone which is often placed on women who still frequently become primary caretakers.
Canada’s “keep in touch” policy has aided new parents on leave by providing them with updates about happenings occurring within the company. By reaching out to those taking time off, companies show their support and make it easier for new parents to transition back into work life. Because employees are not made to feel out of the loop, they feel like they never left the office. To further help employees integrate their role as parents with their roles as employees, some companies have begun to launch return-to-work programs that let employees work 60 percent of their regular hours at their full wage amount.
The authors of the studies estimate that should the United States choose to adopt these parent-friendly policies, as many as 5 million workers would join the workforce, insinuating that when the country provides benefits to its citizens, the nation as a whole benefits.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.