Is Canada more pro-family than America?
Canadian families get generous parental leave, childcare subsidies, and guaranteed healthcare. Critics claim America can’t afford to follow suit, but it’s increasingly clear that it can’t afford not to.
Did you spend time with your family on Feb. 15? Canadians did. For many of our northern neighbors, this Monday wasn’t Presidents Day but Family Day, an official paid holiday created in several provinces for the sole purpose of promoting quality time for families.Skip to next paragraph
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Canada’s Family Day is the capstone in a long tradition of family-friendly policies that support and strengthen the family unit. Although America has a deep-seated philosophy that strong families are key to a strong country, our state and national policies simply don’t measure up.
Despite our fears that socialism is an unwanted and perhaps contagious disease, in these tough economic times, most Americans would welcome the kind of public benefits provided to Canadian families. New parents can take up to 50 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave, at up to 55 percent salary. They are also guaranteed a comparable job when they return to work at the end of the time off.
To help offset the costs of raising children, a variety of subsidy programs are available, both to working parents who use day care and stay-at-home moms and dads. These benefits are in addition to guaranteed healthcare for all families, regardless of income, employment history, size of workplace, or preexisting health conditions.
Dubious distinction on parental leave
By contrast, the United States is arguably the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t give all new moms paid time off. In a 2007 report that studied 173 countries, a Harvard and McGill University research team found that 168 nations provide some form of paid income benefit for childbirth, leaving the United States in the company of four other countries – Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papau New Guinea – that do not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave.
Even US companies that are praised for being family friendly offer little more than six weeks of fully paid leave. The resulting financial pressure causes many moms to separate prematurely from their newborns. Given all we know about early childhood development, this separation imposes a high cost on families and society in years to come.
An American mother might be able to afford to take another six weeks of unpaid leave, or some companies may allow her to use sick time to extend her paid leave. She must return to work within 12 weeks, however, or risk losing her job. Fathers are generally absent from the equation unless they qualify for, and can afford to take, the 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But since FMLA applies only to companies with more than 50 employees, about 40 percent of US workers aren’t eligible.