President-elect Joe Biden is expected to support federal paid leave benefits for employees. Whether such an agenda can go through with a Republican Senate is questionable. That is unless, Democrats get the help from some misguided conservatives, who have been pushing their own version of paid leave under the illusion that the government could somehow get involved in this area of our lives without growing the size and scope of government.
Let’s review what’s at stake here, since the arguments for a federal paid leave program are grounded in distorted information and bad assumptions.
President-elect Biden has not given many details about his vision for a paid leave program. We know from his campaign website that he supports 12 weeks of paid leave for all workers to care for all sorts of family needs. It’s easy to assume that Biden would likely support the main Democratic proposal, a program called the Family Act. That plan would provide workers with 12 weeks of leave and cover two-thirds of workers’ wages. It would be financed with a 0.4% payroll tax, or $4 a week.
Now, the Democrats’ insistence that we adopt a federal paid leave program may lead many to assume that American companies do not provide paid leave to their employees at all. In fact, one talking point that all proponents of the federal program like to repeat is that the United States is ([link removed] ) the only industrialized nation ([link removed] ) without a national paid leave program. While this is true, it is not the case that no workers in American enjoy paid leave benefits.
First, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17% of workers ([link removed] .) have access to a paid leave program, an increase from 13% two years ago. However, this number is highly misleading, since it severely underestimates the actual number of workers who benefit from paid leave. The BLS’s peculiar survey methods require paid leave to exist separately from “sick leave, vacation, personal leave or short-term disability leave that is available to the employee ([link removed] ) .” Proper accounting, which uses several government surveys about workers’ benefits, reveals that a majority ([link removed] ) of workers ([link removed] ) have access to paid family leave benefits, and three out of four who take leave in a given year get full or partial pay.
In other words, we may be the only country without a federal paid leave program, but we are also the only country with a vast and expanding network of companies that provide benefits like paid leave programs that are flexible, accommodating, and often more generous than the plan the Democrats have in mind.
The reason for this is extremely simple. The benefits of paid leave to families and young parents are well documented. Many companies understand that they gain from providing this type of benefit to their workers, as it leads to more satisfied employees, lower turnover rates, and higher productivity. But that doesn’t mean that this benefit should be mandated, supplied, or subsidized by the government.
There’s a large body of literature on the negative impact of government-paid leave policies ([link removed] ) on women’s wages, prospects for advancement, and overall employment. Implementing these policies here would simply mimic a policy that has already backfired elsewhere. Evidence at the international level is damning.
Consider Denmark ([link removed] ) . Its government offers 52 weeks of paid leave and other generous, family-friendly benefits. But even in paradise, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. A well-cited study ([link removed] ) shows that while men’s and women’s pay grew at roughly the same rates before they had kids, mothers saw their earnings rapidly reduced by nearly 30% on average ([link removed] ) ; men’s earnings were fine. Women might also become less likely to work, and if still employed, earn lower wages and work fewer hours. Women are also seriously underrepresented ([link removed] ) in managerial positions.
Some people argue that paid leave is only one side of the equation: In order to get the full benefit of paid leave, the government needs to subsidize childcare, too ([link removed] ) . This is incorrect. A recent paper ([link removed] ) looking at 50 years of data from Austria shows that the generous expansion of paid leave benefits, even when coupled with generous childcare benefits, “have had virtually no impact on gender convergence.” In other words, those claiming that the benefits are necessary to close any real or imaginary ([link removed] ) gender gaps ([link removed] ) in the workplace should find another way.
Adding insult to injury, most paid leave programs would be paid for with a hike in the payroll tax, a particularly punishing tax for low-skilled women. This is important since the Family Act’s price tag advertised by Democrats – a 0.4% payroll tax or $4 per week, per worker, on average – is highly deceptive. As the Heritage Foundation’s Rachel Greszler shows ([link removed] ) , in reality, after accounting for increases in leave-taking behaviors in response to the more generous program, the cost rises to $200 billion – which would require a tax hike of 2.55%. That’s about $1,300 for the average worker, and that’s added to the already-steep payroll tax of 15.3%.
Conservatives generally understand the negative impact of government mandates and federal spending. This longstanding attitude is why most of them vigorously oppose the Family Act. Unfortunately, in recent years, some of them have put their support behind the idea of using Social Security benefits to finance paid leave ([link removed] ) . I have covered this particular proposal and all the reasons for opposing it in a paper ([link removed] ) a few years ago with former public trustee for Social Security and Medicare Charles Blahous and former acting Deputy Commissioner of Social Security Jason Fichtner.
The bottom line is that this program would increase the scope of government, since the federal government would now be involved in an area it wasn’t before. It would also undoubtedly increase the size of government in the long term, too.
A final word of caution: Once a federal paid leave policy is implemented, whether through Social Security or mandated with funding provided by the government, the companies already providing the benefit will stop or will likely demand that workers use the government option first. We have seen this phenomenon before in states where paid leave programs were put in place. That’s how civil society shrinks.
Research also shows that the program disproportionately benefits middle-income and upper-middle-income workers – the same workers who already had access to paid leave – while very few lower-income workers would use the program. The same will happen with a federal program like the Family Act or the one conservatives envision.
Either way, it is a bad deal for Americans in general.
Acton Line podcast:
Philippa Stroud & Anne Bradley on pandemic and poverty ([link removed] )
December 16, 2020
202012016 ([link removed] )
This week we’re bringing you another conversation from our recent Poverty Cure Summit.
The Poverty Cure Summit provided an opportunity for participants to listen to scholars, human service providers, and practitioners address the most critical issues we face today which can either exacerbate or alleviate poverty. These speakers discussed the legal, economic, social, and technological issues pertaining to both domestic and global poverty. Rooted in foundational principles of anthropology, politics, natural law, and economics, participants had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the root causes of poverty and identify practical means to reduce it and promote human flourishing.
In this conversation, moderator Al Kresta talks with Baroness Philippa Stroud, CEO of the Legatum Institute, and Anne Rathbone Bradley, the George and Sally Mayer Fellow for Economic Education and the academic director at The Fund for American Studies, about poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic.
For decades, the number of individuals living in extreme poverty across the globe has fallen. Yet last month, the World Bank reported that COVID-19 could add approximately 100 million people to the ranks of those in extreme poverty by the end of 2020. The panelists examine how the pandemic has impacted poverty reduction efforts and how the marketplace has responded to the pandemic.
Listen to the episode
([link removed] )
You might also like
Checks and balances were built for today ([link removed] )
First, a truism: Checks and balances are at the foundation of our national government. Second, a cliché: The U.S. is increasingly polarized. Combining these two, many commentators have been eager to forecast the end of checks and balances in a time of political jockeying. But they misunderstand the very aim of checks and balances. For instance, according to one op-ed in the New York Times, “Democratic institutions function only when power is exercised with restraint. When parties abandon the spirit of the law and seek to win by any means necessary, politics often descends into institutional warfare.” This misses the point altogether. On the contrary, our republic is designed to function even when power is not exercised with restraint, because that power is externally restrained by another power. A robust system of checks and balances isn’t necessary only during times of national agreement, but during times of disagreement. Separation of powers was designed precisely for times like these.
([link removed] )
Jimmy Lai faces life in prison under new ‘national security law’ charges ([link removed] )
Chinese Communist authorities have levied new charges against Jimmy Lai, which could result the outspoken Catholic dissident spending the rest of his life in prison. On December 11, authorities formally charged the Hong Kong media tycoon with violating its restrictive “national security law.”
([link removed] )
Facebook ([link removed] )
LinkedIn ([link removed] )
Twitter ([link removed] )
Instagram ([link removed] )
Acton Institute, 98 Fulton St E, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, United States, 616-454-3080