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Half of working moms get paid maternity leave

FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP - Getty Images

Italian politician Licia Ronzulli takes part in a vote on European maternity benefits earlier this year. About half of working first-time U.S. moms got some paid leave, according to new government data.

Congratulations on your baby — and for half of new working moms, your paid leave.

A little more than 50 percent of moms who had their first child between 2006 and 2008 received some sort of paid maternity leave, according to data released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

A little more than 42 percent took unpaid leave, according to the government’s calculations. About 14 percent reported using a combination of both paid and unpaid leave, meaning they were counted in both those statistics.

The data shows a very slow increase over the past few decades in the percentage of working women who got some pay while on maternity leave. In the early 1980s, 37.3 percent of first-time working moms got some sort of paid leave.

Many of the moms who got paid while on leave used maternity leave benefits, while some used paid sick or vacation benefits.

Women with a college degree were much more likely to draw a paycheck while home with their newborn than those with lower levels of education. Women over 30 also were more likely to get paid leave than younger workers.

The Family and Medical Leave Act requires many employers to provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave. California also requires some paid leave.

Some have argued that this country is woefully behind in terms of its support for working moms. Last February, the activist organization Human Rights Watch released a report critiquing the United States as being decades behind other countries in terms of its policies on parental leave.

Other studies have shown that the United States lags most other developed countries in terms of both paid and unpaid parental leave. An analysis of 2008 data by the Center for Economic and Policy Research  ranked the United States 20th out of 21 developed countries in terms of its parental leave policies.