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John Oliver defends paid family leave on Mother’s Day

When President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day celebration in 1914, Social Security wasn’t on the nation’s menu of entitlements, let alone paid family leave. However, John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” used the occasion to discuss the need for compensated time off for new parents.

“In America, there is nothing that we wouldn’t do for moms — except for one major thing,” Oliver said, pointing out that the United States and Papau New Guinea are the only countries in the world that don’t offer new moms paid time off. (In January, Poltifact rated a similar claim by President Obama “mostly true.”)

Since 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act has offered some parents with new children unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks, but many are not eligible because they are contractors, because they don’t work enough hours or because their employer is not big enough, among other reasons. Forty percent of employees aren’t eligible for such leave, Oliver said.

“If a worker with no paid leave goes into labor at work,” Oliver said, “she better hope it’s on her lunch hour and her co-workers don’t mind if the break room gets a bit messy.”

Countering claims that mandated paid leave would have negative effects on the economy, Oliver cited an initiative in California in 2002 for paid leave that proved “not a big deal,” in the words of one news report he aired.

“It seems paid paternity is a bit like having hockey on in the background at a bar,” Oliver said. “It’s not hurting anyone, and a couple of people are actually really into it.”

Of course, Oliver wasn’t the only one to come out swinging for moms on May 10.

“When this many people are having the same exact problem at the exact same time, we don’t have an epidemic of personal failings,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner wrote at MSNBC.com. “These conditions are the product of a political system that undervalues and under-appreciates the contributions and needs of mothers and families. We can do better.”

Here’s presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s version of the same appeal, in which she recounts her visit to daughter Chelsea when the former (and future?) first kid was giving birth.

In a video posted to her YouTube channel, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton discussed her mother's life and maternity leave policies. (Video: YouTube/Hillary Clinton)

“One of the nurses said to me, ‘Thank you for fighting for paid family leave,'” Clinton said. “‘At a time that should be so exciting and joyful, I see so many women who are just distraught. They have to immediately go back to work.’ “

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