Breast pumps, business jets, and U.S. family leave policy

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When I first moved to America over ten years ago, I was fascinated by a marketing piece I saw for a breast pump. This photo showed a woman in an executive suit jumping on a private plane, carrying a briefcase that hid a breast pump, with a storage section for milk.

It was very different from the breast pump photos I had seen in Europe, which featured blurry images of mothers sitting at home, surrounded by household accessories. And since I was pregnant myself at the time, the new image seemed exhilarating. No matter whether you were going to have a baby, the ad seemed to state that anyone could still take a high-powered job and continue to breastfeed their baby – even hopping on a business jet.

A decade later, however, I can also see a dark side in cultural symbolism.

In some ways America is one of the best countries in the world to be a working woman. He has a long list of inspiring women leaders, from Janet Yellen (head of the Federal Reserve) or Nancy Pelosi (leader of the House Democrats) to business leaders such as Ginni rommety (IBM) and Irene Rosenfeld (Mondelez International), etc. Indeed, I have personally found New York to be the most supportive environment for an active woman that I have ever known: it is a place where ambition is accepted, even with babies and breast pumps. .

But there is a catch. America is also a difficult place for new mothers. After all, the reason executive style breast pumps are on the market is that many women return to work very soon after giving birth. Sometimes it’s a personal choice. But it reflects something else: childbirth can come with big financial costs.

Most notably, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not have a national law requiring companies to provide paid family leave when a woman gives birth. Indeed, we had to wait 1993 that America has introduced national laws protecting the rights of women to take a few days – unpaid – to give birth.

For some, it doesn’t matter. Some liberal states, like California, New York and Washington, have introduced their own state-level laws that impose family leave for new mothers, at a very basic pay level. Most large companies also offer it to their full-time employees.

But most states still don’t have local laws requiring paid family leave, and women who don’t work in large companies, or full-time, tend to have few benefits. Indeed, Sheryl sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, recently said that the law was so flawed that “at present, only about 60% of the US workforce access to unpaid leave thanks to the 1993 law on family and medical leave ”.

The net result is therefore a cruel bifurcation. Professional women who hold full-time jobs are often protected; poor women who work part-time (and really need financial help) don’t. It is shameful, especially in a country where 40% of women are the main or sole breadwinner in their household.

Could this change? May be. Hillary Clinton has long campaigned for maternity benefit. But during his election campaign, Donald Trump stunned observers by also endorsing the idea: he called for a national plan to provide six weeks of paid family leave, as a form of unemployment insurance, for mothers and fathers. .

This reflects the lobbying of his daughter Ivanka Trump, now a White House adviser. Ms Trump has met with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to craft bipartisan legislation to introduce family support. She is also pushing for her father to double the US child care tax credit from $ 1,000 a year to $ 2,500, as part of the White House’s tax reform plan. Indeed, she hopes these improvements will be a key part of her legacy.

It is not known if this will fly. Budget conservatives in Congress hate the idea of ​​extending benefits, fearing it will increase debt levels and make the job market less flexible. Democrats are angry that Ms. Trump has not done more to promote women’s issues and want sweeping action. Meanwhile, the whole issue of congressional tax reform is so controversial that it might not get passed quickly, if at all.

But, at the very least, the intervention of Trump’s father and daughter has – belatedly – put paid parental leave in the headlines. And activists hope that the more America talks about this challenge, the more pressure will build for change at the state level or within corporations themselves. God knows it’s long overdue – not just for professional women, but more immediately for the army of poor, hard-working women who support so many American households but could never hope to own a briefcase and a high end, Executive breast pump at $ 370, especially after childbirth.

The writer is the American editor of the FT


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