After a Brief Pandemic Reprieve, Rural Workers Return to Life Without Paid Leave

by | Jan 18, 2023 | Health

ELKO, Nev. — When Ruby B. Sutton found out she was pregnant in late 2021, it was hard to envision how her full-time job would fit with having a newborn at home. She faced a three-hour round-trip commute to the mine site where she worked as an environmental engineer, 12-plus-hour workdays, expensive child care, and her desire to be present with her newborn.

Sutton, 32, said the minimal paid maternity leave that her employer offered didn’t seem like enough time for her body to heal from giving birth or to bond with her firstborn. Those concerns were magnified when she needed an emergency cesarean section.

“I’m a very career-driven person,” Sutton said. “It was really difficult to make that decision.”

Sutton quit her job because she felt even additional unpaid time off wouldn’t be enough. She also knew child care following maternity leave would cost a substantial portion of her salary if she returned to work.

Tens of millions of American workers face similar decisions when they need to care for themselves, a family member, or a baby. Wild variations in paid leave regulations from state to state and locally mean those choices are further complicated by financial factors. And workers in rural areas face even more challenges than those in cities, including greater distances to hospi …

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