New data gathered by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and reported by Wall Street Journal shows that the percentage of employers offering paid maternity leave beyond the bare minimum that’s legally required dropped to 35% this year, down from 53% in 2020. The share of employers offering paternity leave programs was also slashed, from 44% in 2020 to just 27% in 2022.
It isn’t just smaller and midsize companies that are cutting benefits for new parents either. Companies like Hulu, which is owned by Disney, are reducing parental leave benefits as a way to deal with inflation and prepare for a possible recession. According to SHRM, after increasing benefits during the pandemic, companies are attempting to return to their pre-pandemic policies from 2019.
New parents are paying the price of inflation and economic uncertainty
Cuts in parental leave are just another example of the way our society takes parents for granted and pushes our needs to the bottom of the list when times get tough. In stark contrast to the significant reduction in maternity and paternity leave benefits, paid vacation and sick leave benefits are increasing. According to the SHRM survey, 99% of employers offer paid vacation and 96% offer paid sick leave—which have actually increased from 98% and 95%, respectively, in 2020.
Moreover, employers are cutting leave in spite of the fact that the vast majority recognize the importance of parental leave, with 82% of the 3,000 employers surveyed by SHRM, calling these benefits “very important” or “extremely important”. And the benefits of paid leave—for workers, families, and employers—are well established. Paid parental leave is known to support child development, improve maternal health, support fathers’ role in child care, and boost families’ economic security. From the employer perspective, paid leave improves worker retention and productivity without increasing operating costs. Paid leave can also increase the strength of the labor force, by keeping parents—typically mothers—in the workforce rather than leaving to care for a child.
With the benefits of paid parental leave so well established, it begs the question: why are benefits impacting parents among the first items on the chopping block? Is it because employers don’t want to acknowledge that their employees are also parents with obligations outside of the workplace? Is it because employers know many parents have little choice? Does our society value caretaking and parenting so little that the needs of families, especially new parents, are pushed aside and disregarded?
Cuts in parental leave have widespread consequences
Cutting parental leave has a direct impact on childcare. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, childcare is one of the biggest expenses for U.S. families. The high cost of childcare has been exacerbated by the shortage of day care workers, as well. Parents are scrambling to find child care options or they are leaving the workforce entirely because there are no options. According to Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey, 26% of millennial and Gen Z mothers said childcare issues were the primary reason they left or quit their jobs in the last year. Among Gen X mothers, 37% said they left or quit their jobs in the last year because of childcare issues.
The rising cost of raising a child—which has soared to more than $300,000 from birth to the end of high school—along with decreases in benefits that directly impact parents and the general lack of support for families also complicate decisions about whether to have kids and how many children to have. In Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey, only 30% of moms said they wanted another child—down from 43% in 2020’s survey.
For many families, unpaid leave means no leave
Since there is no federal law requiring employers to provide paid parental leave benefits, legally required leave standards can range from zero to 12 weeks, depending on location. Eleven states require most employers to offer some paid leave to parents, but 39 states do not. Let me repeat that: 39 states don’t require employers to provide paid leave to new parents.
Even though federal law provides qualifying employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child, for many families unpaid leave is synonymous with no leave. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, found that two-thirds of workers who didn’t take necessary parental leave or medical leave said it was because they couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave. There are racial implications to the disparity in parental leave, as well, with Black, Hispanic, and Native American workers less likely to be able to afford unpaid leave from work than white workers.
Not only are parents bearing the toll of inflation, but reductions in parental leave is also widening disparities among families based on industry and profession. SHRM found that 54% of employers in professional, scientific and technical industries offer paid leave beyond what is legal required—up from 52% in 2020. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reports that Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a large biotech company, increased paid parental leave from eight weeks to 26 weeks. In contrast, however, only one-third of employers in construction, utilities, agriculture and mining, government and education industries offer paid maternity leave.
The US needs a national paid leave policy ASAP
A lack of universal paid parental leave is a uniquely American problem. The U.S. is one of only six—SIX!—countries without national paid parental leave requirements. The rest of the world offers, on average, paid maternity leave of 29 weeks and 16 weeks of paternity leave.
A national policy on paid parental leave is long overdue. Because state requirements on maternity leave and paternity leave vary so widely from state to state, across industries, and depending on the size of the employer, reductions to parental leave widen racial and economic disparities, increases the economic burden on families, reduces the available workforce, and puts increased burdens on already burned-out parents.
Bottom line: a lack of adequate parental leave shows that the U.S. still doesn’t value families.
We can’t continue to take parents’ roles as caretakers or our contributions to the workforce for granted. We can’t continue to send the contradictory messages that dads should be equally involved in parenting without supporting them in doing so. And we can no longer keep expecting mothers to work like they don’t have children and mother like they don’t have a job. Doing so is harmful, disrespectful and unsustainable. After all, we are raising the next generation of humans. Let’s start treating that responsibility with the respect and support that it deserves.
Motherly designed and administered its 2022 State of Motherhood survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1,197 respondents, Millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.