In response to a growing awareness stressing the essential roleof parental care, certain areas of the country and sectors of theeconomy have begun instituting an ever-broadening slate of paid family leave benefits.

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Among the country's poorest regions and least upwardly mobileindustries, however, only a slim percentage of employees enjoyaccess to similar programs.

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Related: Parental guidance

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Unsurprisingly, given the competitive struggles to enlist toptalent among leading companies, the tech industry has emerged asprivate sector champions of the benefit. Elite employers such asGoogle and Amazon have incorporated generous stretches of paidfamily leave as a key component of their hiring strategies.

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Facebook now offers new parents four months away from work withfull compensation. Online marketplace Etsy allows staff membersstarting a family to take off a full six months while receivingtheir normal salaries. Most remarkably, Netflix expanded its familyleave package to cover a full year of paid leave during a 2015policy change.

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Despite significant gains seen among the largest tech companiesand like-minded advancements made by companies specializing infinancial services, the nation's less-aspirational industries havefailed to make any notable adjustments of family leave policy.

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At the opposite end of the spectrum from Silicon Valley and WallStreet, those economic sectors traditionally dependent upon alightly educated workforce earning minimum wage — manufacturing, agriculture, retail and hospitalityto name a few — seem content maintaining the status quo.

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Related: San Francisco now requires fully paid parentalleave

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According to the most recent estimates of the U.S. Department ofLabor, only 12 percent of all American workers receivebenefits commensurate with paid family leave, however, a NORCCenter for Public Affairs Research poll shows that 72 percent ofAmericans age 40 and above support the offering.

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The availability of unpaid leave has expanded to cover nearly 90percent of employees. However, few households can afford even thetemporary loss of income, and, making matters worse, the issuesinvolved typically demand additional expenditures above and beyondordinary costs of living.

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Family leave laws

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act safeguards therights of new parents (alongside anyone acting as an ill familymember's primary caregiver or suffering from a severe illnessthemselves) to take 12 weeks each year of unpaid leave.

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Still, after political gridlock had stalledthe bill for years, a necessary compromise inserted severalstipulations within the legislation that effectively nullified thisright for employees of small businesses, part-time workers andpeople hired less than a year beforehand.

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In recent months, laws providing more comprehensive protectionshave been proposed by state and local governments throughout thecountry. Politically progressive cities such as San Francisco andNew York City have enact sweeping programs that ensure extendedsubsidies for both mothers and fathers who wish to care for newbornchildren. As well, employees throughout California are free todepend upon just over half of their usual pay for a six-week period of designated family leave.

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Related: New York passes family leavemandate

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However, though certain regions have clearly prioritized fundingthese programs, Labor Department figures reveal such benefits are allbut unknown throughout large swaths of the nation. For example,just 7 percent of employees within the states comprising the U.S.Census Bureau's East South Central Division — Alabama, Mississippi,Tennessee, and Kentucky — receive paid family leave.

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As contrast, the share of the workforce guaranteed family leavemore than doubles to around 15 percent for the Pacific and theNortheast regions.

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In terms of federal policy, the United States remains the onlydeveloped country without some form of institutionalizedcompensation for family leave. At the same time, though, anincreasing consensus among medical authorities worldwide indicatesthe clear benefits for public health ensuing directly from suchprotections.

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A 2011 report from the Association of Schools ofPublic Health found that the incidence of infant mortality was 10percent greater among nations that did not provide for paid familyleave. Similar studies have shown notable correlations between theabsence of paid leave and an often staggering increase in therelative percentage of mothers suffering from post-partumdepression and children failing to receive vaccinations.

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The premature cessation of breastfeeding, which has beenidentified as a risk factor linked to a variety of maladies ranging from IQ deficiencies tocompromised immune systems, has become another area of concernregularly emphasized by child-development professionals advocatingfor more substantive federal policies intended to encourage familyleave for new parents regardless of their economic status.

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