We're one of the only countries where new mothers don't get paid time off. John Oliver looks at why.
"Paid maternity leave is a bit like having hockey on in the background at a bar. It's not hurting anyone, and a couple of people are actually really into it."
In his latest in a long line of epic segments, John Oliver made the case for paid family leave on "Last Week Tonight."
The whole thing is worth watching, but if you don't have the 12 minutes to do so, I've recapped it below.
The United States is one of very few countries in the world without any form of paid time off for new mothers.
Here in the U.S., new mothers are not guaranteed any paid time off after giving birth. However, they are able to take unpaid time off. While that's better than nothing, not all mothers can afford to forgo a paycheck, especially with a newborn.
As part of the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees can take that unpaid time off — if they meet some rather restrictive criteria.
FMLA only applies to people who have worked for the same employer for 12 months, have logged at least 1,250 hours in the past year (an average of at least 24 hours per week), and work for a company with more than 50 employees within 75 miles of the worker's location.
Also, this doesn't apply to contractors, freelancers, or employees at small businesses (fewer than 50 workers).
In 2013, NPR reported that this leaves roughly 40% of the workforce without even FMLA coverage.
Family leave is important to fathers, too. Sadly, the idea that women take care of the children while men work has made the prospect of paternity leave a challenge.
Because, you know, in some families, both parents work. In others, the mother works while the father stays home. Or it's a family with two mothers. Or a family with two fathers. Or ... well, you get the picture.
Society's one-size-fits-all, old-school approach to parenting just doesn't cut it anymore.
As an example of what happens when a father dares to take leave from work to be with his newborn child, Oliver pointed to Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets.
At the very start of the 2014 season, Murphy's wife went into labor with the couple's first child, their son Noah. Like most loving husbands and fathers, Murphy wanted to be there. To do this, he had to miss the first two games of the season (out of 162, mind you).
Critics came out in full force to criticize Murphy, including former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason and radio talk show host Mike Francesca.
Murphy handled it as well as could be expected. He even spoke at the White House Working Families Summit.
"When Noah asks me one day, 'What happened? What was it like when I was born?' I could have answered 'Well, [Washington Nationals pitcher] Stephen Strasburg hung me a breaking ball that day, son, and I slammed it into the right-field corner.' But I think it's going to go so much further in that I'm the one who cut his umbilical cord. And long after they tell me that I'm not good enough to play professional baseball anymore, I'll be a father. And I'll be a husband. So that was a reason on the front end that I wanted to be there for my wife and for my son." — Daniel Murphy
But let's get down to the real question: Why do we have such a flawed system? Simply put: lobbyists and legislators.
Oliver broke it down, showing what debates on the floor of the House of Representatives looked like in 1993 as FMLA was being discussed.
Now mind you, this was just to get the current, restrictive, 12 weeks of unpaid leave system in place. We haven't even touched on paid leave.
Did FMLA destroy the American economy as Reps. Ewing, Pryce, and DeLay predicted? No.
Other things may have but not FMLA.
What happens to the economy when we actually take it to the next level — paid leave? Pretty much nothing.
Like the FMLA, a California law offering partial paid leave managed to not destroy the state's economy.