Michelle Obama on Work-Life Balance
The New York Times online opinion page today ran a piece called “Michelle Obama’s Balancing Act” about Mrs. Obama’s decision to champion the issue of work-life balance. One way the First Lady might use her bully pulpit is to bring to the attention of American businesses, workers and policy-makers the ways in which other countries help moms and dads balance their jobs at home and their jobs at work.
Two of the last century’s most far-reaching socioeconomic transformations have been the wholesale entry of women into the paid workforce and a sharp increase in single motherhood. Yet our policies, workplaces, social institutions, and societal expectations have been slow to adapt to the altered landscape. As a consequence, we have millions of overstretched, overstressed families cobbling together care-giving crazy-quilts while still trying to pay the bills. Our peer countries have faced similar social transformations, and they have responded with policies to help. Some examples:
• Today the U.S. is in the company of Swaziland, Liberia, and Papua New Guinea as one of only four countries on the planet with no federally mandated paid maternity leave. 
• Sixty-six countries guarantee paid paternity leave. Ninety-eight countries have fourteen or more weeks of paid leave for mothers, 31 have fourteen or more weeks of paid leave for men as well.
• At least 107 countries protect the right to breastfeed during the workday, with 73 offering paid breaks. This right is not guaranteed in the United States.
• One hundred thirty-seven countries mandate annual paid leave. U.S. firms are not required to provide paid vacation time.
• One hundred forty-five countries have paid sick leave for short- or long-term illness, with 136 having at least one week annually, and 81 allowing at least twenty-six weeks or until recovery. Sick leave is offered in the United States through the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it is unpaid and does not cover all workers. 
Compared to our peer nations and even many developing countries, we are in the dark ages on this one.
 Heymann, Earle, Hayes, “The Work, Family and Equity Index.”