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The cost of unpaid parental leave is devastating

A new study on unpaid financial leave highlights what many parents already know to be true: the cost of unpaid leave can be devastating for families.

Hannah Murphy, 34, is a health writer and mother of two boys, ages 7 and 8, living just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. In 2013, after the birth of her first child, she took eight weeks of unpaid leave. In 2015, after welcoming her second child, she took four weeks of leave, also without pay.

“My employer didn’t offer paid leave – I worked in an orthopedic clinic and then in a hospital,” Murphy told TODAY Parents. “I was given time off to protect my job, but it was at my expense.”

Murphy says her husband helped renovate his grandmother’s house, in addition to his full-time job, as a secondary source of income before the birth of their first child, giving the family enough money to cover the spending two-thirds of Murphy’s unpaid leave.

Related: ‘An emotional slap in the face’: Mums want stillbirths covered by paid family leave

“We had a pretty tight budget for the rest of the time, and I ended up going back to work earlier than planned because of the lost pay,” she added. “I lost about $7,000 in income due to unpaid leave with my first son.”

After the birth of her first child, Murphy’s husband lost his job of over 10 years. To “keep us afloat,” she says, he temporarily took a lower-paying job. Meanwhile, having two children 15 months apart took a physical toll on Murphy’s body. She realized that she had a small crack in her pelvis from childbirth. The pain was excruciating, she said, but she couldn’t afford to take any more unpaid time off.

“I came back to work after five weeks off so we could keep our heads above water,” says Murphy. “We ended up taking out a loan soon after our second son was born to ease the burden. That, of course, took years to pay off.

“The mental cost of unpaid leave was the hardest part”

Breeze, a disability and critical illness insurance company, conducted a recent study on unpaid family leave with 1,001 women aged 18-44. According to 54% of respondents, they “would consider a personal loan to cover unpaid maternity leave”. leave costs”, while 49% said they would consider “dipping into their retirement funds”.

Most women surveyed said taking unpaid family leave would be a “permanent setback” to their finances.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not mandate paid family leave. One in four women in the country return to work two weeks after giving birth, according to the paid leave advocacy group in the United States (PL+US).

Related: Adoptive mothers fight skepticism and hostility over maternity leave

Elizabeth, who is currently pregnant and has asked for her name to be changed to protect her privacy, says she was ‘on track’ to take paid family leave following the birth of her second child through her former employer before “reaching a breaking point.”

“I was crying all the time, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t emotionally follow everything that was going on around me, and work was the only stressor I had any control over,” Elizabeth told TODAY Parents. “So I moved into a part-time freelance position with the same company and it made me a better mom and made me feel more human.”

Elizabeth, who works in public relations and lives in New Jersey with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, says she plans to rely solely on her family’s savings to make up for unpaid postpartum leave.

“My husband also earns more than me and we have always had family help,” she added.

Still, she plans to cut costs — like not eating out and being more frugal when buying baby items — and says that despite family support and the financial cushion, she still feels stressed at home. idea of ​​taking unpaid family leave.

“The stress comes from me – sometimes I feel stupid for not just going all the way,” Elizabeth said. “Women do it every day and I often feel like that choice makes me weak. I wish I could just put my head down and work like everyone else, but I’m so overwhelmed.”

Related: Yahoo’s new baby leave policy is generous. Yours? Probably not so much

Larisa Courtien, 32, had just two weeks of paid maternity leave after the birth of her first child in 2017. She took an additional two weeks of unpaid leave.

“The mental cost of unpaid leave was the hardest part,” the mother-of-two told TODAY Parents. “How nice is it to be with your new baby and your partner when the bills have to be paid? be presentable to come back to life even if you are completely changed physically and emotionally.”

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Population Research found that “financial hardship factors” cause psychological distress in parents, especially when these factors are related to housing and job security. And a series of studies, cited in forthcoming research into financial stress caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, have found a “link between financial stress and poorer mental health outcomes”, including including depression and anxiety. Courtien says she worked 30 extra hours a week, on top of her full-time job, when she was pregnant in order to save $10,000 to cover the cost of her unpaid time off. She says it took her family four years to rebuild their finances.

“My husband only had two days of paternity leave,” she added. “I had a complicated birth and delivery so we stayed in the hospital for a total of seven days. It made everything more difficult because we weren’t being paid for that time.”

“I would never settle for working for a company that made me feel like I had to apologize for being a parent again”

Heather Menser, 35, lives in West Virginia and works in childcare and preschool management. She has three children, aged 6, 9 and 14, and is expecting her fourth in October.

In 2008 and 2012, she took unpaid leave – the first time for seven weeks and the second time for three weeks. She took unpaid leave again earlier this year after the death of the father of her two eldest children.

She says she definitely needed more time, both after having children and after the death of her children’s father, but “wasn’t able to afford it”.

“I was living paycheck to paycheck in 2008 and 2012,” Menser told TODAY Parents. She estimates that she lost $3,000 in salary in 20018 due to unpaid family leave, $2,000 in 2012 and $1,700 after taking leave earlier this year.

Related: What Other Countries Offer Workers That the United States Simply Doesn’t

“We cut anything not absolutely necessary from our budget and relied on help from family and the church,” Menser said. “I am currently rebuilding (my finances).”

Now, Menser said paid parental leave is “one of her top priorities” when considering a job opportunity, and that she’s “much more verbal with mine and my children’s needs and knows My value”.

Murphy, who is no longer with employers who did not offer paid family leave, says she feels the same way. She is grateful to now work for a mother of five who is “supportive when I need more time or schedule adjustments.”

“I would never settle for working for a company that made me feel like I had to apologize for being a parent again,” she added.

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