U.S.: Bottom of the Pack for Bread-and-Butter Basics
Join me in welcoming Dr. Jody Heymann, professor in the Faculties of Medicine and Arts at McGill University, where she is founding director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy and founding chair of the Project on Global Working Families. She also is an adjunct associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Heymann has authored and edited more than 150 publications, including Raising the Global Floor and Forgotten Families. She has led the development of a unique graduate and undergraduate multidisciplinary training program that bridges research and policy development with students gaining experience in 18 countries. Also, check out the interactive world legal rights database created by Dr. Heymann and her team.
When it comes to ensuring working families have the bread-and-butter basics, the United States is an outlier, there’s no doubt. For example:
- 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers; the U.S. does not.
- 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers; the U.S. does not.
- 132 nations guarantee breastfeeding breaks at work; the U.S. does not.
- 163 nations guarantee paid sick leave; the U.S. does not.
- 48 nations guarantee paid time off to care for children’s health; the U.S. does not.
- 41 nations provide leave that can be used for child education needs; the U.S. does not.
- 33 nations provide paid leave to care for adult family members; the U.S. does not.
The cost to Americans is profound.
- Every year Americans lose income and homes when they get sick with serious illnesses.
- Restaurant workers, health care providers and co-workers spread disease when they go to work with infectious diseases.
- Infants fall sick at 1.5-5 times the rate when they are not breastfeed—by mothers who have little choice.
For decades, we’ve been hearing none of these issues can be addressed because of the economic cost. The argument has been that if mothers and fathers could afford to care for their newborn children, we’d have fewer jobs; America would be less competitive; it would cost too much. If people with flu stayed home when they were sick, if Americans with cancer didn’t fear losing their job and home when they got sick, it’d cost too much for our country. Well, it turns out not to be true. Some 57 million Americans do not get paid leave, or even sometimes unpaid leave, to stay home sick or to care for sick relatives.
In Raising the Global Floor, a book that reports on 10 years of research carried out at Harvard and McGill, Alison Earle and I report the findings of the largest global study to look at working conditions, how they affect individual men and women and national economies in 190 of the world’s 192 countries.
Can the United States afford to improve working conditions?
- Globally, none of the protections described above are linked with lower levels of economic competitiveness or employment.
- Of the world’s 15 most competitive countries, 14 provide paid sick leave, 13 guarantee paid leave for new mothers, 12 provide paid leave for new fathers, 11 provide paid leave to care for children’s health needs, eight provide paid leave to care for adult family members and seven guarantee breastfeeding breaks.
- The majority of the 13 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries with consistently low unemployment rates provide paid leave for new mothers (12), paid sick leave (11), breastfeeding breaks (9), paid leave for new fathers (9) and paid leave to care for children’s health needs (8).
We can afford the change. What we can’t afford is the status quo.