Labor Department: Maternity Leave the Responsibility of Families, Not Government

Feb. 2, 2007 — -- For millions of working moms, those first weeks after giving birth are a time away from work to recover and bond with their new baby.

But increasingly the question is: Who pays for that time off work?

Most countries around the world provide paid maternity leave.

A study out this week from Harvard and McGill University in Canada shows that of 173 countries surveyed, only five provided no form of paid maternity leave -- Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Swaziland, Liberia and, perhaps surprisingly for some, the United States.

"I do think American women are not aware of how bad they have it," said mother Michelle Porter.

Senator: 'We Take Better Care of Pets'

Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd says that only 12 percent of U.S. companies offer paid maternity leave, even though 71 percent of all mothers work.

Late Thursday, he proposed expanding the family medical leave act to allow all employees in the country at least six weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or any sick family member.

"We take better care of pets and your automobile than we take care of your child in this country," Dodd said.

Dodd says studies show it is good business for employers to offer paid maternity or medical leave.

But Karen Czarnecki, deputy assistant secretary of labor, disagreed.

"We'd end up losing jobs," she said.

Czarnecki says it would cripple many businesses if they had to pay an employee to take time off to care for a newborn or a sick parent. She says it's up to each employee to plan for those life events.

"We need to do more to encourage Americans to save more for the times that they do need to be out of the work force," Czarnecki said.

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas said to Czarnecki: "It's up to a person to save enough money before they have a baby to be able to stay home for a few weeks and recover and spend some time with that new baby?"

Czarnecki said: "Yeah, I think people have to take responsibility for themselves and they shouldn't always look to government to have an answer for them."

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