Families & the Community

John Oliver Skewers America’s (Lack Of) Paid Parental Leave Policy

By Lillian Mongeau — May 13, 2015 2 min read
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John Oliver, the British comedian who made a name for himself as a “Daily Show” correspondent and who now hosts “Last Week Tonight” on HBO, took on paid parental leave this week with a scathing monologue and his signature dry humor.

Oliver starts the segment with a set of increasingly ridiculous Mother’s Day ads including one from Hooters, where mothers are told they’ll be treated to free wings on Mother’s Day.

“Mom, I want to thank you for making me the man I am today,” Oliver quipped, “the kind of man who takes his mother to Hooters.”

Point Oliver.

Using the idea that our outward show of caring about moms is about as empty a gesture as taking your mom to Hooters for free wings would be, Oliver proceeds to run roughshod over America’s lack of paid parental leave for new mothers.

“What we’re saying is, you deserve the very best moms, you’re just not going to get it,” Oliver said.

(“Last Week Tonight” is on HBO, and Oliver sometimes uses swear words and adult themes. You have been warned.)

America and Papua New Guinea are the only developed countries that don’t offer paid paternity leave by law, according to a PBS story Oliver shows a snippet of. With just 12 weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed only for new parents who meet a strict set of conditions, Oliver points out that even the existing U.S. policy applies to only 40 percent of workers. He also makes clear than many of the moms missed by the law are those that need it most: parents on the edge of financial solvency, with low-wage jobs.

Paid paternity leave has gotten a boost in the public conversation since President Barack Obama called for paid sick time and maternity leave for all workers in his 2015 State of the Union Address. And though Oliver doesn’t command quite the same platform as the president, his unique blend of comedy and political science lecture delivery makes for TV worth watching.

Oliver leans heavily on a TV interview with Bloomberg’s Claire Suddath, who has covered parental leave nationally, both for her explanations of the current situation and for profiles of mothers who have had to sacrifice time with their weeks'-old infants to return to work.

“This is not how it’s supposed to work,” Oliver said in the middle of the piece. “Mothers shouldn’t have to stitch together maternity leave the way we plan four-day weekends in Atlantic City.”

He also takes a swipe at the idea that parental leave should only be for women and castigates macho culture for not recognizing the importance of dads spending time with new babies. To make his point, he cites the kerfuffle over Major League Baseball player Daniel Murphy missing a game when he took three days off after the birth of his child to be with his family.

Citing studies which have shown no negative economic effects of paid leave in the few states (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) where it exists, Oliver insists that argument holds no water.

“It seems paid maternity leave is like having hockey on in a bar, it’s not hurting anybody, and some people are really into it,” Oliver said.

The cringe-worthy final sequence is one you’ll just have to watch yourself, because I’m not going to be able to do it justice with mere words.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.