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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Eight-week paid leave is not enough

Correction: A previous version of this editorial misstated UNC's paid leave policy. While four weeks of paid leave are available immediately to the birth parent, there are four additional weeks available to be taken any time in the following 12 months.The article has updated to reflect the change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

The Editorial Board applauds UNC for beginning to grant two types of four-week paid family leave beginning in January, particularly for being equitable in providing the benefit to all staff, non-faculty and part-time workers. The policy allows for four weeks of paid leave immediately following childbirth for the birth parent, and another four weeks of paid bonding leave to both parents within the next 12 months. Yet it’s dangerous to become complacent in congratulations, and the Board encourages the University to extend their new paid leave policy.

According to a 2012 study by the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, having less than eight weeks of paid maternal leave is associated with increases in depressive symptoms and a reduction in overall health for mothers. Women who have at least 12 weeks of paid parental leave are also more likely to begin breastfeeding their child and continue breastfeeding for 6 months, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Birth.

A 12-week paid leave program wouldn’t just help low-income mothers stave off postpartum depression and allow them to bond with their infants; it would help the local economy, especially for the sake of gender parity. Economists have found paid leave programs increase the probability that mothers return to the workforce, working more hours and earning higher wages. 

The University is not alone in its need to expand its paid leave policy. 

The Town of Carrboro provides a mere 240 hours of paid parental leave, equivalent to 30 work days. Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade told Chapelboro in 2017 the policy was to help the town stay competitive as an employer. It’s just asinine that being compensated 240 hours after giving birth to a human being is better than the majority of employers’ benefits, but it’s true. 

As of 2019, only about 20 percent of private sector jobs provided some form of paid parental leave, and only eight states and the District of Columbia have mandated paid family leave. The U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. In an International Labor Organization analysis of 185 countries and territories, only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea do not offer cash considerations to mothers during maternity leave. Britain, in comparison, offers 52 weeks of mostly paid leave. 

If a society can be judged by how it values children, then North Carolina — and America as a whole — has a horrendous reflection. Worse than the Deke mirror at 2 a.m. you drunkenly stare in, mascara smeared, clothes stained in PJ, living it up in the “greatest country in the world.” 

And maybe America is, especially if you have a real kink for being so unconditionally dedicated to individualism that it transcends your own empathy. 

When we’re afraid of illegal immigrants stealing our jobs, we lock their children in cages. When we’re afraid of paying higher taxes, we overlook millions of mothers unable to afford staying home with their newborns. On the latter, we look to the private sector for providing paid family leave. 

Maybe we forget businesses are driven by profit rather than aspirations of economic equity. Or, we want to protect the wealthy because we fantasize about becoming rich, and we want to protect our future selves. And maybe we get so lost in letting our work and our salary define us that we forget being a mother or father is the most important, influential job of all — one that lives and dies with us, and one that everyone should be able to afford.

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