On Thursday, Arkansas passed a law to provide four weeks of paid maternity leave to state agency workers, becoming the fifth state in the U.S. to offer paid family and medical leave.
Yes, only the fifth. Currently, three other states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—offer partially paid maternity leave for workers, the former two states providing six weeks leave, and the latter four weeks.
New York, the fifth state, passed a family leave law in 2016 that provides workers 12 weeks of leave, but it doesn’t go into effect until next year. And Washington passed a paid family leave law in 2007, but never implemented the law and has since been postponed it indefinitely.
Even then, the laws between the five states don’t provide workers their full weekly wages while on leave and don’t apply to all workers. While New York covers 67 percent of a worker’s average weekly wage, California’s law only pays 55 percent.
Arkansas’s new law, though, does a little better—it guarantees full pay for state agency workers taking leave. San Francisco tops the charts, passing legislation last year to mandate six weeks of full pay for workers in the city.
While the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does require U.S. employers with 50 or more employees to offer 12 weeks of maternity leave to employees who’ve worked at the company more than a year, that leave is unpaid. In fact, the U.S. is the only country in the free world that doesn’t federally provide paid parental leave (Estonia offers more than a year and a half of paid leave). Paid maternity leave not only alleviates the financial burden of working families, but it’s also associated with lower rates of infant mortality and post-partum depression and higher rates of breastfeeding.