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Black Women More Likely To Forego Unpaid Maternity Leave Out Of Necessity, Study Finds

A study from on maternity leave found women were the breadwinners in two-thirds of American families, but for 80% of Black women who bring in the most money, 4 out of 10 opt out of unpaid maternity leave after giving birth. 

Researchers emphasized the gender disparities when it came to paid parental leave provisions. With women being the majority of breadwinners in their families, paid leave is significant to their financial status and likelihood of returning to work. Although women provide substantial financial support to their families, they are the one most likely to reduce working hours or not return to work. If a woman is a recipient of paid family leave, they are 93% more likely to return to work. As far as income goes, “one additional month of paid parental leave can boost a mother’s income by 7%.”

The study also revealed this bombshell: “Black women lose an estimated $3.9 billion in income each year to unpaid or poorly paid leave.”

Paid family leave can impact a child’s well-being based on the support provided to mothers. Receiving paid leave has financial benefits for expecting mothers and increases emotional support when fathers are permitted to receive paid family leave. 

The study found that Oregon, Washington, and New York are the top three states for paid family leave. Oregon’s paid leave policy was enacted in January 2023; however, expecting individuals couldn’t apply for the benefits until September 2023.

“Oregon offers 12 weeks of paid leave, earning 100% of an individual’s average weekly wage (AWW) up to 65% of the state’s average weekly wage (SAWW) of $1,224.82. After that, individuals earn 50% of their AWW for income over 65% of the SAWW ($796.13) up to a maximum $1,446 weekly benefit,” according to 

Among the states with the least supportive paid family leave policies are Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, respectively. Mississippi, in particular, does not offer any paid leave protections, while Arkansas offers the lowest wages for paid leave, and the state does not have laws to protect paid leave.

The implications of this study show differences in paid leave based on race and socioeconomic status. The study reveals that people of color and low-income individuals are the least likely to reap the benefits allotted by the Family Medical Leave Act due to higher ineligibility rates. 

The rates of FMLA ineligibility are as follows: 55% Native American, Pacific Islander, or multiracial workers, 48% Latinx workers, 47% Asian American workers, 43% Black workers, and 42% white workers. 

In 1993, FMLA was established to provide employees meeting specific requirements with unpaid time off while maintaining health insurance coverage for “12 work-weeks in 12 months to care for a newborn or newly adopted/fostered child,” according to 

However, paid parental leave is not guaranteed in the U.S. as the country does not offer federal protections. Thus, expecting families must consider parental leave options offered based on state policies and benefits provided by employers.

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