Sunday, January 25, 2015

Obama, and some US Senators, broker issue of paid family leave

The Sunday Review section of the New York Times, today, January 25, 2015, p. 4, has an opinion piece by Jennifer Senior, “Generous Republican Benefits”, link here.  She is talking about paid family leave.  She queried some Senators, and a lot of them --  15 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 9 Republicans – responded that they provide some paid family leave. And President Obama has signed an order allowing federal employees up to six weeks of paid family leave.
My concern about this whole issue has always been, that someone else has to pay for it.  That may be appropriate for “the common good” (to use the term the way Rick Santorum unashamedly uses it) but if so we should be able to talk about it that way.
The natural response (especially from the Left) is to say employers (that is, owners or shareholders) should pay for it.  It’s part of the cost of business.  Nevertheless, the end result is that the childless wound up doing more of the work for a given pool of pay.  True, in Europe this doesn’t seem to cause much tension (but it doesn’t really help the non-immigrant birth rate much).
When I was “working” this wasn’t “funny”.  Back in the 1980s, when I worked for a credit reporting company in Dallas, everyone was totally responsible for his or her own applications so it never came up.  In the 1990s, with a life company, for a while it became a problem.  Some of those without families did more of the on-call support and were not paid for the time, although they got bigger raises.  There was one particular weekend in October where I worked “for free” while a coworker had a baby.  Should I subsidize someone else’s marital sex (which I will never have) with free labor?  This was swept under the rug.
The dark side of all this was, of course, that in tough times, I could “lowball” those with families out of their jobs by working for less.
The great equalizer (besides “the razor”) might be gay marriage, and openness to gay adoption – so a lot hinges on what the Supreme Court rules this term.  That begs the question, then, is there a moral obligation to “adopt” or provide care if you can.  This question could interact with immigration and possible sponsorship of people applying for asylum.  That’s ultimately, for me, why “marriage equality” matters, even though I’m not likely to need it directly from a benefits viewpoint.
Well, there’s another great equalizer (besides something like the Nimzo-Indian Defense in chess) – eldercare, as people live longer.  The childless are likely to wind up with the lion’s share of it.  So an aging population will help augment the case for paid family leave.
When my mother had coronary bypass surgery in 1999, and I was working a thousand miles away, there was no talk about the possibility to taking unpaid family leave (a sacrifice), even though by law I could have claimed it.  A lot of other factors in play, but paid leave might have been a game changer even then. 

But we shouldn't give out paid benefits, paid for by others, without an honest discussion of what it means.  We shouldn't hide it under the dinner table. 

Update: Jan. 26, 2015

I answered a question on WJLA-7's Facebook page on paid parental leave with this comment:  There is now a bill in Congress to mandate paid family leave, at least for federal employees (maybe contractors).  No doubt, big tech companies find it is in their best business interest to offer it, fine in their libertarian culture.  But not not smaller companies.

"Certainly it's great when an employer does it. But if government mandates it, then you’re making me (childless) as a worker (though I'm retired now), subsidize other people's decisions to have children. When I was working, I sometimes worked unpaid on-call for others with kids. I know, this is a big moral debate, not enough room in a short comment here," Links are here (Facebook) and here (story). 

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