TODAY   |  September 27, 2013

Paid maternity leave a boon many US moms don’t get

TODAY correspondent and new mom Jenna Bush Hager explores the issue of paid maternity leave, something more than 80 percent of U.S. businesses don’t offer.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> first, the hot topic for new parents. we asked new moms if they would rather have an extra three months of paid leave, lose the baby weight instantly or get $10,000 for their child's college fund . more paid leave won, 44%. jenna bush -hager has been looking at these. good morning.

>> good morning, guys, i just returned from maternity leave and research shows how important that time is for bonding but we found out very few, only 11% of american women have paid leave.

>>> like more than 2 million american women every year, i'm headed back to work after giving birth. grateful to have had the summer with my daughter mila.

>> well, this morning we're happy to welcome back jenna bush -hager who is back from maternity leave .

>> it is not complete until you're sitting on this couch. we missed you.

>> i missed you guys although have to say i really liked maternity leave .

>> reporter: and kelly is returning to work as a cpa at ernst and young after giving birth to her daughter gail.

>> i actually had the benefit of being off for four months.

>> paid?

>> paid leave for four months which is a phenomenal aspect of their maternity plan.

>> reporter: kelly 's employer also offering lackation consulting and career counseling. working mother magazine named her company one of the best for working moms.

>> having those opportunities made my decision to go back to work easier.

>> reporter: but kelly is one of the lucky ones . only 11% of all private industry workers have access to paid leave. the overwhelming number of companies in the u.s., about 84% don't offer paid maternity leave . like kayla who only 8 weeks after giving birth returned to work as a medical assistant .

>> i worked for the medical field and they do not offer us any maternity leave that is paid. if i had paid leave it would have given us a lot more time as a family together.

>> reporter: this has lawmakers on capitol hill taking notice.

>> tell me about your day?

>> reporter: like this mother of two.

>> i think our policies on a federal level have not kept up with our work force . we're stuck in the mad men era but most families had the husband go to work and the wife stay at home . that is not a reality for most american families today.

>> reporter: under the federal medical leave act companies provide 12 weeks of unpaid family leave but that law only applies to companies with 50 or more employees. also employees must work full time and have been employed at the company for more than a year. the result, about 40% of workers fail to qualify. which is why, today, the senator is introducing new legislation to guarantee paid leave.

>> how does this law need to change?

>> well, what the legislation does would allow parents and mom to have paid family medical leave right after the birth of an infant or the adoption of a baby.

>> reporter: the united states is the only industrialized country without any government requirements for paid maternity leave putting it in the same category as some of the world's poorest including liberia.

>> you know being a young mom, those early days and early weeks are so crucial and for families they really need that time. that time needs to be paid.

>> reporter: time that new mother kelly doesn't take for granted.

>> she is such a joy and she just changes our dynamic. now we're not just husband and wife, we're a family.

>> you've had a great summer?

>> absolutely. probably one for the record books. she is well aware that getting her legislation passed is going to be a tough fight. many business groups fought paid maternity leave because of the cost. they say they can't afford it and it's bad for business. of course she says differently than any business that respects women will do better.