Photo: Karina Albuquerque and her newborn son, Brian, in 2014 (Courtesy Brilianna Photography)
It took Karina Albuquerque seven years without going on vacation to achieve what she desired the most: spend her first child’s early months exclusively by their side – a luxury most parents in America simply can’t afford.
Only 16 percent of U.S. workers have some paid parental leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The country is the only one in the developed world that doesn’t have national paid parental leave – and makes up a small group of three nations along with Suriname and New Guinea. The topic is one of the few in which both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates agree. Despite differences in duration and extent, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump propose some sort of national paid family leave.
But until a Federal law is passed, workers who want to take some time off to stay with their newborn child must save, borrow, or use a lot of creativity to keep their finances healthy.
Albuquerque planned carefully her maternity leave years before getting pregnant. The New York City hospital where she works allows employees to spend up to one year away without pay. The nurse piled up days off and vacation time during seven years, and saved the equivalent of 12 months of her wage. She was able to spend seven months nursing her first baby, now two years old.
“When I started thinking that one day I would like to have a child, I decided to save my vacation days for that moment,” said Albuquerque. “We were afraid of not having enough money, so my husband and I did a lot of extra shifts. First we bought our house, then started saving for maternity leave.”
Albuquerque is an exception. Women who are eligible for unpaid maternity leave take on average 58 days off, according to a research by the National Partnership for Women & Families. The Family and Medical Leave Act, also known as the FMLA, guarantees workers can take up to 12 weeks off if their companies have 50 or more employees and if they have worked for the same employer for at least one year. But half of those who use the benefit go back to work earlier than they wish because of financial constraints.
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