American women have it pretty good compared to their counterparts in other nations who are still denied basic rights like learning how to read or drive. Last week marked International Women’s Day, which advocates for the rights and freedom of women around the world.
Yet many women here are irked they don’t have access to paid leave benefits that all other developed countries demand of employers to ease the burden of caring for a newborn or another loved one.
Democrats have long called for the government to step in and mandate family leave for parents. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has again introduced her FAMILY (Family and Medical Insurance Leave) Act, which calls for workers to receive at least two-thirds pay for 12 weeks. It would be funded through a new payroll tax.
Gillibrand has company this time. Conservatives are now clamoring to get on the benefit bandwagon.
A surprising number on the right are offering paid leave plans — something Republicans have traditionally eschewed, preferring to leave the option to the private sector rather than creating a new entitlement.
This support starts at the White House. With the encouragement of first daughter Ivanka Trump, President Trump has plugged paid leave as a priority for his administration.
Ivanka Trump first supported a plan that would offer paid leave through states’ unemployment insurance plans. But she’s open to other ideas.
That includes an intriguing plan from the Independent Women’s Forum, which promotes personal liberty and free markets. IWF suggests something called Social Security Parental Benefits, which as it sounds, would allow new parents to access their retirement benefits early — and then delay their eligibility later on. Proponents says this offers the benefit without “raising taxes, growing the government or hurting workers’ economic opportunity.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is pursuing legislation modeled after the plan. He’s joined by some others in the GOP and is working to rally more.
IWF estimates 2 million parents per year would receive approximately $7 billion in parental benefits if the plan went into place. And the benefits would replace about 45 percent of the average worker’s salary for 12 weeks.
Patrice Lee Onwuka, senior policy analyst at IWF, says this paid leave plan fits in with a conservative agenda, while addressing the challenges for women in low-to-middle income jobs. Many women in higher-income jobs already have access to paid leave through their employer.
“This would be entirely self financing — it’s not a new tax on workers,” she says. “It’s a voluntary program.”
Not all conservatives are on board. Romina Boccia, an economic expert at the Heritage Foundation, thinks it’s a mistake for Republicans to push paid leave to boost their popularity — and pre-empt what they see as a worse plan from Democrats.
Even though only 14 percent of workers have formal paid leave, Boccia says the actual estimate is closer to 40 to 60 percent, as many employers will work out leave directly with employees. Expect more to get on board, now that the GOP’s tax reform created a tax credit for businesses that offer paid leave.
Boccia argues that mandating any form of paid leave can ultimately backfire on women, making them less attractive to employers. It also has the potential to harm women economically, as paid leave encourages them to take more time off, stalling their careers and chances for promotion.
Given the real hardship for many new parents balancing family and jobs, it’s good to see conservatives joining the conversation. Getting the government involved, however, always carries a risk.