A full year of paid leave? Offices accommodating newborns? Not the reality for most working moms.
Despite the slew of parental perks we've seen from larger companies recently, data from the Department of Labor shows that one in four new moms return to work just two weeks after having a baby. While the federally-mandated maternity leave policy requires companies to give women a minimum of 12 weeks off, that time doesn't have to be paid. So returning to work is a financial necessity for many moms.
Twelve percent of new moms took a week or less of leave in 2012, while another 11 percent took between one to two weeks, according to an Abt Associates study for In These Times.
What earns women longer maternity leave, unsurprisingly, is more money.
"The highest-paid workers are most likely to have [paid leave]," says study author Sharon Lerner. "More than 1 in 5 of the top 10 percent of earners are getting paid family leave, compared to 1 in 20 in the bottom quartile."
And a higher salary comes in tandem with higher education; 80 percent of the women who were able to take at least six weeks of leave have a college degree.
"Without adequate options or support, low-income workers, who are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck and less likely to have access to any type of leave, often have little choice but to power through," says Lerner. "As our data confirm—and as finances dictate—less educated women, who tend to have lower-paying jobs, are likely to take less time off after having children. Often, that means not just going back to work early, but going back to very long work hours, very early."
We need a change. While Senate Republicans recently blocked a Democratic-sponsored bill to guarantee US workers just seven days of paid leave, the fight is not expected to end here. For starters, the Obama administration has issued $1.25 million in grants to study the best way to implement paid leave programs by state.
Returning to work after maternity leave? Check out our Back-to-Work Guide for New Moms.