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Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Tara worked full-time and was already caring for a toddler when she had her second child. Like many American mothers, Tara was not granted maternity leave. Instead, she cobbled together vacation days to give herself a mere 20 days with her new baby following the birth. With money tight, “my family can’t afford the loss of even one paycheck,” she told the Atlantic last year.

In a country where 88 percent of women do not get a single hour of paid leave after giving birth to a child, Tara’s story represents the struggles of thousands of women. However, even when maternity leave is granted—as much as four months of paid leave in some cases—many women choose not to take it, for fear of hurting their careers and jeopardizing their standing.

In a study by Ohio State University, between 1994 and 2015, an average of 273,000 women took maternity leave each month in the United States. However, since 2004, this number has hardly increased, despite new state laws awarding leave to expectant mothers. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island now offer between four to six weeks of parental leave. According to Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research, “it was surprising and troubling” that state laws had no impact on the national average of women taking maternity leave.

Unlike previous generations, women today are having children during the peak of their careers, when their earnings are critical to the financial well-being of their families.

 

Women comprise two-thirds of the low-wage workforce. According to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64 percent of mothers with children under six work. In 40 percent of households with children, women provide the primary financial support for the family.

When a family’s income is tight, it’s no wonder women feel the need to go back to work immediately after having a child, especially when new mothers who choose not to work face stigma. A study by University of Massachusetts sociologist Michelle Budig found that an average American woman’s earnings decrease by 4 percent with every child she has. On the contrary, the average American man’s earnings increase by 6 percent per child. Researchers have also discovered that fathers are often perceived as competent employees and are more likely to be hired than mothers.

Some companies are making an effort to offer proper time off to new moms. Starbucks offers new mothers six weeks of fully paid maternal leave. Facebook offers four months of fully paid time off after a woman has a child.

Whether due to financial obligations or other reasons, many women do not take time off because they do not want to hurt their careers. A study by iCIMS Women in the Workforce Report discovered that 45 percent of office professionals believe taking parental leave would limit their opportunities for a promotion. Women become increasingly concerned as they move up in their careers about the potential consequences of maternity leave.

Until the culture and the laws around maternity leave shift in favor of working mothers, women will continue to struggle balancing their careers and their children.

Anna Sanford is an editorial assistant at AlterNet’s office in Berkeley, CA.
This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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