Olson, 32, works for a small towing company and U-Haul franchise in Rock Springs, Wyo., and she could not afford to be away from work any longer.
“The house bill’s not going to pay itself,” she says, her voice breaking in an audio diary she kept as part of a series on the challenges facing working parents airing on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Olson is one of just four employees she says are “like family,” and like many U.S. workers, she has no paid leave at all: not for vacation, not if she gets sick, and certainly not for parental leave.
Normally, she’s the only one in the office to take calls. Her boss agreed to fill in for her for three weeks after the delivery, but she says “even just that … makes me feel guilty.”
Olson is hardly alone in returning to work so early. But this is a uniquely American problem.
“The U.S. is absolutely the only high-income country that doesn’t” provide paid maternity leave, says Jody Heymann of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.
In fact, of the 193 countries in the United Nations, Heymann says, 185 have national paid leave laws. Those that don’t are Papua New Guinea, Suriname, a few small South Pacific Island states — and the United States.
Even many low- and middle-income countries provide at least 14 weeks of paid leave, Heymannn says, and have done so for decades. Fifty nations provide six months of leave or more.
The International Labor Organization made paid maternity leave a priority a century ago. But Heymann says “most countries, just seeing what it was like for women to try to balance work and caregiving, knew they had to do it for the sake of families, for the sake of kids and for the success of their economies.”