United States Lags in Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

The United States lags behind most other industrialized countries in failing to provide paid sick leave, paid paternal leave, breastfeeding breaks and other policies to support workers, according to an eight-year-long worldwide study released this week that focuses on family-friendly workplace policy. Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth that We Can’t Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone, is the most extensive study of its kind. The report compiled information from 190 of 192 United Nations countries and from 55,000 households on seven continents. The study was led by researchers at Harvard and McGill Universities.

Researchers found that US law does not guarantee paid leave for new mothers (177 countries do), paid paternal leave (74 countries do), paid leave to care for an ill child (48 countries do), paid annual leave (164 countries do), paid sick leave (163 countries do), and a day of rest each week to workers (157 countries do). The report sought to examine the economic feasibility of implementing these policies as well as the costs and benefits of providing this safety net for working families.

“The world’s most successful and competitive nations are providing the supports the United States lacks, without harming their competitiveness,” lead author Jody Heymann of McGill University said in a press release. “Globally, we found that none of these working conditions are linked with lower levels of economic competitiveness or employment. There simply is no negative relationship at all between decent working conditions and competitiveness or job creation. In fact, we found that a number of these guarantees are associated with increased competitiveness.”

This study’s release follows the publication of the Shriver Report last month, which was a comprehensive study of women becoming the majority of the American workforce. Ms. Magazine recently addressed the need for US legislation to develop women-friendly economic policies like those detailed in Raising the Global Floor, in light of women becoming more than 50 percent of US paid workers. Authors Karen Kornbluh and Rachel Homer said in Ms., “True reform of our safety net would mean that American families are assured that their income will be replaced not only as a result of retirement, disability or unemployment but also when they have to care for a new child or an ill relative.”


Raising the Global Floor Congressional Briefing 11/17/09; National Partnership for Women and Families Press Release 11/17/09; Ms. Fall 2009

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