Wednesday, October 17 , 2018, 12:01 pm | Fair 70º

 
 
 
 

Veronique de Rugy: Thinking Broadly About Parental Leave Policy

In recent months, a vocal group of conservatives has joined with Democrats in arguing that it's time for the government to correct a blatant market failure: the private sector's inability to provide sufficient paid parental leave. A new study suggests otherwise.

The study by the Cato Institute's Vanessa Brown Calder is called "Parental Leave: Is There a Case for Government Action?"

Before diving into the report findings, I want to question the timing of the conservative interest in government-provided paid leave.

The economy is doing well and growing fast; unemployment rates, no matter how you measure them, are pretty low; and companies that have to compete for the better employees are expanding benefits, including paid leave.

In other words, it's an odd moment for conservatives to shift their position on government-provided paid leave, no matter how light the intervention.

The first issue Brown Calder tackles is the question of what the private provision of paid leave looks like. It's meant to answer a recurring talking point from those who advocate for a federal paid leave policy that states that the United States is the only developed nation without a national paid family leave policy, though a few states have created their own programs.

Because some of these supporters understand that the lack of federal provision doesn't mean that the private sector isn't providing the benefit, they add that the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 15 percent of women benefit from paid leave.

Brown Calder then unpacks these notions.

First she looks at the BLS number and finds that it doesn't come close to including all paid leave options and benefits provided by private employers. Using more comprehensive government metrics, she shows that without the government mandating or paying for a paid parental leave benefit, between 45 percent and 63 percent of women report already having access to paid leave.

The best part of this story is actually that the data show how the private sector has steadily increased its provision of paid leave to first-time mothers from 16 percent since the 1960s to over 50 percent in 2008 (the last time data were available).

If you add disability (which is often used as paid leave), that number grows to 61 percent, which is a 280 percent increase over the period.

As a result, the share of first-time mothers who quit working declined "from over 60 percent in 1961 to just over 20 percent in 2008." As Brown Calder writes, "This represents a 66 percent decline in first-time mothers who quit their jobs, in the absence of federal government supported leave."

Even in the absence of updated data, we can assume this upper trend is continuing.

She writes, "Over 100 large name-brand companies have created or expanded paid family leave policies over the last three years, and a long list of major companies, including Walmart, Walgreens, Home Depot, Target, Starbucks, Amazon, FedEx, and McDonald's, have created or expanded paid leave programs since late 2017 alone."

Better news yet is that this expansion benefited low-wage and hourly workers, too. This is important since the data is clear that the women or men who don't benefit from paid leave are historically lower-income women and hourly wage workers.

Many of these workers don't even qualify for the current 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Unfortunately, as her report shows too well, as much as we would love for everyone to get paid leave, a government-provided solution to the issue won't result in the proverbial free lunch that supporters hope for.

It's likely to have minimal effect, as the new benefit will be offset over time by lower wages. It could also give an incentive to employers to discriminate against childbearing-age workers for the benefits of older workers.

The study offers more evidence that government-provided paid leave results in fewer women in leadership roles, higher unemployment and lesser pay for women.

Brown Calder concludes suggesting that policymakers "think broadly about improving workers' lives and focus on removing barriers to workers' career choices and improving economic efficiency."

This can be done, for example, by eliminating licensing requirements and other regulations that increase the cost of child care — or implementing the 2017 Working Families Flexibility Act, allowing employees to bank overtime compensation and use it as future time off.

Read it for yourself; you will be inspired.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.