We've been recently been getting into a comedy (we have Netflix) called Raising Hope. It's about a quarky family and does have some redeeming value to it. There are three generations living in one house (well it's four but one of the generations is awol). They mention often that the adult son is still living there raising his daughter in a negative fashion. He's a single dad and his parents work (his great-grandmother has dementia) so he has to use daycare. It's in home. But the cool thing about it is that he has his parents to help out and raise her. And we don't have that sort of thing anymore. I imagine if his great-grandmother was sane she'd be watching the daughter, Hope. And that's the other reason why daycare is being relied on more and more. Not only is our maternity leave terrible, it's not kosher to be around extended family anymore. America is all for pushing independence without keeping our elderly around for additional support (incidentally the great-grandmother isn't in a nursing home). I realize that the way the job market is we have to move far away. That's the situation my family currently is in. And that's unfortunate, but we also as a society tend to scrap our elderly for more "me" independence instead of embrace having multiple generations around.
Now having said all that, my parents moved my elderly grandparents from New England to be close to my dad (long story as to why his older sister wasn't pitching in). They lived independently in a house in our area. When my grandmother died, for many years my grandfather lived alone until he realized that his independence was eroding. He elected to move into an assisted care home. It was entirely his decision. I kinda think he didn't want to burden anybody. It was his way. My parents worked and by that point my brother and myself were latch key kids. Eventually his health deteriorated and he ended up in a nursing home because they were better equipped to help take care of him. This was shortly before he died. So I see the value in assisted care homes and nursing homes because sometimes family can't physically move a person on their own. The biggest difference is we visited him often, took him to the doctor ourselves, and took care of anything he couldn't himself to the point of re-routing his mail to our house. We didn't abandon my grandfather. And unfortunately so many people do.
But back to daycare...
So as I mentioned before in the US we get 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, that is if your company has more than 50 workers and no hardships. What I also didn't tell you is that daycares, at least in my state, allow children as young as 3 weeks to start daycare. So...depending on the income level and postpartum issues of the mother many moms return to work around 1-2 months rather than taking the full 3 months offered. I don't have actual data to support this, just what I've observed. Something to chew on...
Furthermore, this protection is guaranteed through the Family and Medical Leave Act that was signed into law in 1993. Prior to the federal law, there was no universal guaranteed job security for families. Which means during my mother's generation, the working woman generation, women were forced to either return to work super early (using things like accrued sick and vacation time from their job) or quit and stay at home. 1993 people.
To add more fuel to the fire, about 38 percent of Americans do not qualify for FMLA protection because they work for a small business. Although most small businesses honor the act anyway, well at least my job did.
We've made strides in protecting families. Just back in 2010 we extended coverage to members of the military on active duty. But we still have a looooong way to go.
The problem is that the countries who have great maternity coverage tend to have smaller birth rates than the United States and so it behooves them to have incentives for more women to give birth. The United States, up until the Great Recession, maintained a decent birth rate in large part to immigrants, who typically have large families. Now our own birth rate is a lot lower. Some analysts predict that it will eventually return to normal levels once our economy grows. But others are skeptical because more and more people are waiting to have children and deferring marriage.
What I predict is that our birth rate will also start to dip and as a result the United States will do the right thing and pass better maternity leave legislation. But I won't hold my breath that it will happen in this generation.