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John Oliver: If America really loves moms, it should do more to support them

America says it loves moms, but it's one of the few countries that doesn't have a key policy that can help them.

In a previous episode, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver blasted America's maternity leave policy for being the weakest outside of Papua New Guinea. "In America, there is nothing we wouldn't do for moms — apart from one major thing," Oliver said.

Oliver is right that America's maternity leave policies fall far short compared with the rest of the world. The US, in fact, is the only wealthy country that has no nationwide paid leave policy for mothers at all, as this map from the UCLA World Policy Analysis Center shows:

paid maternan leave map 1

(UCLA World Policy Analysis Center)

Oliver pointed out that America does provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. But these protections are so limited — they exempt small employers and require workers to have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year — that they don't cover more than 40 percent of private-sector employees.

As a result, Oliver explained, mothers in the US often have to take leave by using vacation and sick days, some of which may be unpaid. "This is not how it's supposed to work," Oliver said. "Mothers shouldn't have to stitch together time to recover from childbirth the same way we plan four-day weekends in Atlantic City."

Paid leave policies are crucial because mothers face significant discrimination in the workplace. As Vox's Ezra Klein pointed out, one study found that mothers face a roughly 5 percent wage penalty for each child they have, and another found that, holding all other factors equal, "evaluators rated mothers as less competent and committed to paid work than non mothers, and consequently, discriminated against mothers when making hiring and salary decisions."

It's this type of discrimination that paid leave policies help protect against — by providing some guarantees for new or expecting mothers so they don't have to worry about losing pay when they have kids. But no federal policy currently provides these protections. Yet, Oliver pointed out, lawmakers around the country often spend Mother's Day saying how much they love moms.

"You can't have it both ways," Oliver said. "You can't go on and on about how much you love mothers, and then fail to support legislation that makes life easier for them."

Watch: It costs a lot to give birth. Hospitals won't tell you how much.

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