Jun 20, 2023 - Podcasts

America's paternity leave patchwork

Over the weekend millions celebrated Father’s Day in the U.S. But, when it comes to giving dads paid time off to care for their new children, America lags behind.

  • Plus, the U.S. and China say they’ll stabilize relations.
  • And, new summer reading recommendations.

Guests: Axios' Erica Pandey and The New York Times' Jessica Grose.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Summer reading recommendations from Jessica Grose:


NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Tuesday, June 20th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Today: the U.S. and China say they’ll stabilize relations. Plus, new summer reading recommendations. But first, America’s paternity leave patchwork – that’s today’s One Big Thing.

America’s paternity leave patchwork

NIALA: Over the weekend, millions celebrated Father's Day in the U.S. But when it comes to giving Dads paid time off to care for their new children, America lags behind. 63% of countries around the world provide fathers with paid parental leave. That's according to the World Policy Analysis Center. In the U.S., just 11 states have paid parental leave for all parents. Axios’ Erica Pandey is here with the big picture. Hi Erica.


NIALA: So when we're talking about the current state of paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, what does that look like across the U.S.?

ERICA: So it's very much a patchwork, right? We've got, like you said, 11 states that have active laws. We have six more states that have passed laws, but they're not in effect yet. So 17 out of 50. And then in four of those states, it's not even a, a, a guaranteed thing. It's a voluntary thing, so workers can choose to purchase paid parental leave insurance is not something that they just get as table stakes.

NIALA: And how accessible is paternity leave for men, specifically if they're not in one of these states?

ERICA: It, it's not very accessible at all, right? I mean, only 25% of all workers have access to paid family leave. That's the birthing parent, that's the secondary parent, that's all workers. And 11% of workers don't even have the opportunity to take unpaid leave. That's according to the recruiting platform Zippia. So there's a lot of workers out there who can kind of cobble together sick time and you know, in vacation time. But what it means is that particularly dads are trying to come back to work as soon as possible. So another stat that really caught my eye was that 76% of fathers return to work full time in less than a week after welcoming a new baby. Compare that to the average of 6.3 weeks of paid leave that fathers take in the European Union, for example.

So there's a lot of complicated issues that are coming together here, you know, the big issue is that dads just aren't being given the opportunity or being encouraged to take time off. And, and, and that has stakes for, for dads, for their kids, for moms. And it's honestly very inequitable for moms too.

NIALA: I wanna get to that, but first, let's just talk about the consequences for dads. The New York Times reported that married fathers who take paternity leave are less likely to get divorced. What are some of those consequences for not having access to paid paternity leave?

ERICA: So those early weeks of a baby's life studies have shown are so crucial when it comes to building bonds with parents when it comes to their development later in their childhood and even as an adult. And for a father not to be a part of that, you know, really hurts the father and the child. And I think it can create a lot of strife in a, in a relationship if a dad has to go right back to work. And a mom is kind of, you know, at home trying to handle things alone. And I think it creates a lot of pain in marriages that doesn't need to happen if we were giving both parents the chance to sort of be there for those few weeks at least when it's a critical time for a new family.

NIALA: So Erica, we've been talking about laws. How many companies offer paid parental leave?

ERICA: Yeah, so Zippia says about 45% of companies offer it. And you know that's about half. That's way more than the share of states that offer it, and that's because paternity leave. Is gaining ground as a popular employee benefit at tech companies, at finance companies. Some of these, high skill professional workforce companies work from home companies, you know, as we call them sometimes. So there, there is some momentum there. But again, workers in other industries like logistics or the service industry or transportation, have far lower rates of coverage. So you're gonna start to see a two Americas for paternity leave quite soon if we're not already seeing it.

NIALA: If the U.S. is one of just seven countries in the entire world that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave, how likely is it we're going to see change for paternity leave?

ERICA: Right. I mean, that's the huge, you know, question. The issue though is that, you know, we've seen study after study show that there is a cost to taking maternity leave. Moms who take time off to care for a new baby will have to deal with later promotions, slower raises, maybe even an increased risk of getting fired when they go back to work. And that's according to the Harvard Business Review. But experts say that if we gave fathers leave too, and both parents, you know, regardless of gender we're taking leave, that would lead to more equitable outcomes in the workforce because it's becomes much more of a commonplace thing. So, you know, those who push for paternity leave really do say that it's good for dads and really importantly, good for moms as well.

NIALA: Axios’ Erica Pandey. Thanks Erica.

ERICA: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: New data also shows that things don’t get easier for parents after those early days of parental leave. The cost of childcare in the U.S. has become an immense burden on American families, especially if they’re Black or Latino. The average annual nationwide cost for childcare for one toddler hit $10,600 in 2021 – with the highest price being in Washington D.C. at $24,400. The lowest is Mississippi at $4,400.

And according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey foundation, around 17% of Black children and 16% of Latino children aged five and under lived with a family member who had to change, quit or refuse a job in 2021 because of childcare issues.

In a moment, Blinken in Beijing.


U.S. and China say they’ll stabilize relations

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing yesterday – marking the first time in five years that a U.S. secretary of state has visited China.

Secretary Blinken had postponed his trip to China back in February because of the Chinese spy balloon incident. But this two day trip to Beijing was meant to stabilize strained ties between China and the U.S.

ANTONY BLINKEN: We have no illusions about the challenges of managing this relationship. There are many issues on which we profoundly even vehemently disagree.

NIALA: That’s Secretary Blinken in Beijing talking to reporters after meeting with President Xi Jinping. He said had a “robust conversation” with President Xi and that the nations had made progress towards better ties. He also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and other senior Chinese officials. Blinken says Qin agreed to visit Washington at a "suitable time."

New summer reading recommendations

NIALA: As promised we’ll be bringing you summer reading recommendations from all kinds of people. Today we continue our series with New York Times opinion writer Jessica Grose. She’s the author of “Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood.” We asked her for a couple of great reads for your summer.

JESSICA GROSE: Hi, I am Jess Grose. I'm an opinion writer at the New York Times. The first book that I wanna recommend is “The Forgotten Girls, A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America” by Monica Potts. Potts grew up in Arkansas, and she traces how she diverged from her best friend Darcy. Monica went to a good college and she had an impressive career and a stable life, and Darcy just sort of languishes in her hometown and struggles with addiction and joblessness. And I really love the way that Monica gets the texture of teen girl friendships and how hard it is when you are that age and you and a best friend just grow apart. This book is for anybody who is interested in under told stories about what's happening for girls and women in America right now.

I also wanted to recommend on a lighter note, “Big Swiss,” which is a novel by Jen Beagin, and it's the weirdest and most wonderful fiction I have encountered for quite a while. It's about a woman who lives in a small town in upstate New York, where she's a transcriber for a new age sex therapist. She learns all of these, like, naughty and traumatic secrets about her fellow townspeople and she gets involved with them and in their personal lives in ways that she should not. And this book is for anyone who loves dark humor and satire about rich hippies.

NIALA: That’s New York Times opinion writer Jess Grose with her recommendations for summer reading: “The Forgotten Girls” by Monica Potts and “Big Swiss” by Jen Beagin. Jess’ own book is called “Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood.”

That’s it for us today! By the way you can find all those book recommendation in our show notes or at our website. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper