Economics of Parenthood

Cry it Out

The Economics of Parenthood

by Shaila Schmidt, Dramaturg

In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law, providing eligible employees with up to 12 weeks job-protected leave for the birth of a child or in order to care for a family member with a serious health condition. To be eligible, the employer must employ at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, and employees must work a minimum of 1,250 hours in a year and have worked for that employer for at least twelve months. But, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 40% of Americans do not work for employers that meet those requirements.

FMLA leave is entirely unpaid, making the United States the only industrialized country not to offer paid family leave on a national level. However, eight states have stepped in to offer their workers some degree of compensated leave with Connecticut being the latest. As one of the most expansive family leave programs in the country, it offers up to 12 weeks paid leave with a possible two additional weeks in the event of serious pregnancy related health complications. This consideration is particularly noteworthy when you consider over 700 women die from complications related to pregnancy each year in the United States, with an additional 50,000 women suffering life-threatening complications of some sort. Again, more than in any other industrialized country in the world.

Within the last few years, the growing need for mandated paid leave at the federal level has led to proposed plans from several United States senators. One of the things stalling implementation is the question of how to pay for such a program. One plan proposes employers and employees pay into a general fund via payroll contributions much like they do for insurance benefits. Others would allow employees to draw from their accumulated Social Security benefits to cover the cost, ultimately hurting their future retirement funds. With options like these, it comes as no surprise that when you consider socioeconomic status, the choice of whether or not to stay home with your newborn isn’t always a choice. The burden of unpaid family leave is so great that one-fourth of new mothers go back to work within two weeks of giving birth—a full four weeks earlier than the doctor-recommended postpartum recovery period.

The impact of socioeconomic status on parenthood worsens when the cost of childcare is factored in. If the cost of childcare is less than 7% of a family’s annual income, it is considered affordable according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, the average working family paying for childcare in the United States spends about 40% more than what is considered affordable. Childcare is unaffordable for many families and simply out of reach for low-income families who spend more than one-third of their income on childcare annually. In Connecticut, the annual cost of infant care is $15,501, which is 25% more expensive than in-state tuition for a four-year public college and 10% more expensive than the average rent.

Societies all across the globe have been facing socioeconomic struggles for generations. But, in the United States, so few people are having children that at the current rate, the population can no longer replace itself in the next generation. And the cost of childcare may well be a contributing cause.

Cry It Out does not offer answers to the socioeconomic problems facing parents in our society, but it does give us four complex and vastly different approaches to parenthood and shed light on the realities of what it means to be a parent in today’s world. As playwright Molly Smith Metzler states in a recent interview, “People talk about going back to work after you have a child like it’s always a choice. Or they make it a feminist issue, making new mothers feel like they’re stuck in the 1950s if they want to stay home, or they’re cold-hearted careerists if they don’t want to stay home. We make it black and white, and we’re so judgmental. But it’s a very complicated, personal, emotional, and financial thing…We don’t actually talk about it, but it’s a socioeconomic issue in this country, who gets to have the luxury of choice.”