It’s 2016. Why Is America Still Failing Its Working Mothers?


Holly Whitman

Holly Whitman is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She loves to share her thoughts on the intersection of politics and culture, and writes on everything from feminism and human rights to climate change and technology.

Related Post Roulette

194 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    As someone who knew nothing about pregnancy, childbirth, or babies before experiencing my wife’s experiences (once then twice), I was woefully uneducated on the realities. And her experiences were about as smooth as possible! As I saw all that she endured, I became increasingly disgusted by the way in which we treat pregnant women and new moms. How much of this is related to the fact that most of our lawmakers are men who have never experienced pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a new baby, were likely detached from anyone experiencing that in proximity to them, and who probably received inadequate education around sex and reproduction?

    Even the way the laws which DO protect women are written are strange. Zazzy was able to recoup some lost wages for maternity leave through various disability payment programs. So we consider new moms disabled? Other women I know who had to stop or adjust work prior to giving birth also needed to be classified as disabled. I do not mean to suggest that the stigma was often attach to disability is appropriate, but there does something that seems to be off about classifying pregnancy and early motherhood as a “disability.”Report

  2. Avatar Damon says:

    The Forbes link in your article references a lot of possibles for the lower birth rate. I didn’t see anything in that article that supports your assertion that it’s America’s hostility to working moms, in fact the author’s assertion was that it was immigration.

    I’d be interested in the justifications for your recommendations, both from moral and economic perspective, since it seems you are asserting that I should pay for this.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      … since it seems you are asserting that I should pay for this.

      I think she’s asserting that the government should pay for this out of taxes, or that government should require that businesses pay for this out as an operating expense.

      I recognize that you may think of this as a distinction without a difference. However, I don’t know that it is useful for her to attempt to convince you that this particular expenditure is one that is morally or economically the government’s business… if you have a very limited set of expenditures that you believe are morally or economically the government’s business.

      So if you want to dialogue on this I’d suggest you first lay out what you think moral or economic justifications *are* for government expenditures, so that she knows what sort of argument she’d have to craft to appeal to your principles.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        “I think she’s asserting that the government should pay for this out of taxes, or that government should require that businesses pay for this out as an operating expense.”

        I think she is too. But who actually pays for it. Taxpayers/customers. The gov’t / business are just intermediaries.

        “However, I don’t know that it is useful for her to attempt to convince you that this particular expenditure is one that is morally or economically the government’s business…” Holly is the one advocating that the gov’t fund this or regulation be created to require businesses cover it. It seems to be that the one advocating something justify it. She doesn’t have to fine tune her justification to MY principles.Report

        • Avatar Francis says:

          One theory of government is that the government which governs best governs least.

          We should note, however, that the person advocating that point of view was a slaveholder who was deeply personally interested in keeping the damn anti-slavers off of his property. We may also want to note that the very idea that slaves were “property” relies on a rather expansive theory and role of government.

          A second theory of government is that the government exists to balance and mediate conflicts in society. One conflict that exists today is between the rights of an employer to obtain the maximum labor at the minimum cost out of his employees and the desire of employees not to be reduced to servitude. And one way that the conflict is mediated is through the exercise of naked political power — just like virtually other state and federal labor law.

          But being bare-knuckled and obvious about your desires tends not to inspire people. So one hears impassioned speeches on the one hand about the poor overtaxed and overregulated employer and on the other about the harsh consequences of unregulated capitalism.

          Not every idea that other countries have about the appropriate balance of power between employer and employee is a good one. But by the time we’re in the company of just 3 other countries it may be time to listen as to why everyone is handling things differently.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            Francis, you have some good points in your post. I will not, however, that the rationale, other than “other countries are doing it” is missing. Still waiting on Holly.Report

            • Avatar Francis says:

              The government at the state and federal level does all kinds of things to promote family stability and human welfare. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are all enormously popular programs that ameliorate some of the harshness of 20th and now 21st century life in these United States.

              The rationale for adding paid family leave to the suite of benefits that the governments provide to their citizens is that being a new mother is very challenging even for middle class families. And since there are a lot of single mothers and working mothers and single working mothers in our society, it is in society’s best interest to pay them a stipend until they can get back to work.

              PFL (paid family leave) is not intended to be a hammock. Instead, much like short term disability, it is a bridge that is intended to allow women (and men!) to bond with their new family and restructure their lives before returning to work.

              There are probably studies out there about the economic return of early bonding — better kids, happier parents — but for me it’s really a moral issue. American government really does less for its citizens than just about any other industrialized country. But there is more to life than work, and I think our country would be a better place if new mothers and fathers didn’t feel quite so much economic pressure to return to work.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Your first paragraph is nothing more than “this is popular and people like it, and they will like this too”. That’s not a moral justification or an economic one.

                Your second one starts with the assumption that single mothers is something that should be encouraged and reinforced, not disincentivized. It’s been shown that children do best in two parent families-last I heard.

                Your last paragraph talks about morality, but you don’t justify it in any moral terms other than “I feel we don’t do enough for new mothers and fathers”.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                You don’t get much of an effect from single versus double parent households, and a lot of it is selection bias. (Put simply: if you’re a fuckup, you probably got married to someone you shouldn’t, and then got divorced. This happens a lot more often to fuckups than “well-adjusted” people).Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                That’s not a rationale to support those fuck ups though.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                True. But if one wants more children — removing hardships to having children is one way to do it.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                If “one” wants more kids, I fail to see how that is MY concern. I don’t want them, don’t want “one” to have more than they can afford, and see no reason why I should contribute to paying for them.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Ya shoulda stated this earlier, as the OP was using “more kids is a good thing that we want” as an argument.

                FWIW, I also think that asking for more kids without due consideration is probably a bad thing.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                See that’s why I was asking for a moral and economic justification of the OPs position. There were too many assumptions baked in.Report

  3. Avatar Tim M says:

    This is a wonderful argument that “we” (society at large) should do more for new mothers, but I’m unconvinced about a paid leave law. As the article points out, there are big costs associated with motherhood. Right now, those costs are born by the mothers themselves. A paid leave law attempts to push some costs onto employers, but that just makes it more expensive to hire people who might become mothers. You can push the costs around with baroque laws, or you can face them head-on.

    Here’s a better solution: from the third trimester through the baby’s first year, the government pays mothers ~$500 per week, with automatic Medicaid eligibility. They can stay home, get light duty, or “lean in” – do whatever you want, but your basic needs are met.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      There are multiple reasons to favor an approach where the government pays rather than the employer. If you put the burden on the employer, you will further increase the incentive for them to avoid hiring potentially-pregnant women. Having the government cover the employee’s salary mitigates that incentive a bit.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Having the government pay doesn’t solve the tax adverse problem.Report

        • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

          What’s the tax adverse problem?Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            That’s the problem that Saul and Lee made up below. It’s something about not wanting the government to waste more of our money on unsustainable entitlement programs and an over-inflated military budget making someone an extremist.

            It’s worth pointing out that raising taxes is not the only way to fund new entitlements. We could also cut existing spending.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      “Right now, those costs are born by the mothers themselves.”


      While I think I understand what you are getting at, this is the sort of mindset that I believe the OP is address and which contributes to a situation like the one we find ourselves in in America.

      The costs are born by mothers and the babies and siblings and partners and extended family and employers and colleagues. Which is not to say that a relatively small cost is distributed amongst a broad set of people. Rather, their are costs that ripple out and have pervasive impacts but since they are hard to measure and so variable, we simply ignore them.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      The Libertarians and the Right-Wing like to tell themselves that it is a cost borne to the mothers.

      But it seems that the cost is also borne to children and society overall.

      I ask again. Why can every other country institute paid paternity leave and not see it as capitalism under attack?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I’m pretty sure there are also nutballs out there who see the mother not being in the home as being a cost.

        I’m not one of them. I think all women should work! Not stay at home and watch soap operas and eat bon bons!

        I’m just saying that there’s another thing to take into consideration on this. Well, not for *US* to take consideration of. But that bad people take into consideration. And even if they’re right, they’re still bad.

        But they might be right.

        But I don’t agree with them even if they are.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I don’t think the goal should be either get more moms back to work faster or let more moms stay at work longer.

          I think the goal should be to position as many families as possible to make decisions that they feel are in the best interests of their families. Too many families are unable to do this for a host of reasons and the effects are huge and real.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I think the goal should be to position as many families as possible to make decisions that they feel are in the best interests of their families.

            Insofar as their feelings are accurate, I agree with this goal.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I can’t tell if you really mean that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I want them to be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of their families.

                I am not certain that their feelings are the measuring stick they ought to be using.

                I am pretty certain that many of them are getting very, very bad inputs.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Can you give some examples of bad inputs?

                Perhaps you are overemphasizing my use of the word “feeling”. I phrased it as I did to leave room for different ideas of “best interest”. I don’t think we have a singular idea for what is best for children and families. And I think that is a good thing.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                A bad input would be, for example, the thought that a housewife should get a job for, to pick a nice round number, $40,000 a year but child care costs $10,000 a year (per kid!), a car (and gas and maintenance and insurance) costs $10,000 a year, and so, at the end of the day, the $40,000 job is only providing an additional $20,000 to the household.

                Thinking “this job will give us $40,000!” is a bad input.
                Thinking “this job will give us $20,000!” is a good input.

                If people did the math and would take the $20,000 after they weighed the costs and benefits, that’s one thing.

                But if they look at the $40,000 and think “Hey! $40,000!” and then run with that because they feel that $40,000 would be in the best interest of their family, they’re effing up.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar says:

                We ran into this exact sort of thing many years ago. Once we figured in the cost of child care and extra gas for the car, it turned out she was netting about a dollar per hour. That’s when we figured it made more sense for her to be a full-time mom — which in all honesty she preferred anyway — and for me to pick up a part-time job instead.

                That started a period in my life where I worked nine months straight without a single day off.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I agree that we want people to work off good information. I’m curious how many women don’t realize their maternity leave isn’t paid (unless they save up and then exhaust their PTO). This would be a very bad input.

                But I’m also thinking about “inputs” such as, “You are an awful mother if you don’t stay home with your child until they are 47!” and “You are weak and an awful woman if you aren’t working a full time job AND picking up the kids from their elite private preschool with homemade cookies you baked that day!”

                Please know that I am not proposing any sort of governmental response to these inputs.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                AND picking up the kids from their elite private preschool with homemade cookies you baked that day!”

                Best thing my elite private daycare did was tell everyone, due to allergy concerns, parents can not bring in baked goods for the kids. If you want the kids to have baked goods for a birthday or whatnot, you can pay the staff cook to do it.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                You mean your elite private preschool wasn’t surrounded by bakeshops catering to every possible allergen combination known to man?

                “So you’ve got G-free kids, environmental tree nut kids, lactose intolerant kids, and cooked egg kids? You want Mel’s. Not Melanie’s. Mel’s. Melanie’s is the Kosher/Halal/vegan cupcakery on 6th. Mel’s is on 8th.”Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                Why shouldn’t he mean that?

                I don’t think anyone believes that people are automatically entitled to something just because they feel they need it. Any system based in transferring resources based purely in feelings would be unsustainable (lots of capitalist bubbles burst this way).

                Is it contentious to say that there needs to be some more objective measure to adjudicating competing claims on limited resources.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I did not mean to imply that it would be an unreasonable position to stake out. I quite genuinely meant that I had no idea if Jaybird actually meant it or if he was staking out a position that he didn’t actually hold.

                I’m not in favor of a blank check so anyone can do whatever the hell they want. But I know too many families who explain their plans with statements like, “We really wish we could do XYZ, but unfortunately we can only do ABC.” And we’re not talking about, “We really wish we could go to Turks and Cacos but unfortunately we can only go to the Hamptons.”

                Alot of people — women especially but also partners and children and extended family members and employers and colleagues — are plagued with stress and pressure as of a result of a pregnancy. Some of this is inherent and the family should be expected to bear some of this as an inherent consequence of having a child. But it would seem like changes to law/regulation/policy could go a LONG way towards alleviating much of this and for relatively reasonable costs.Report

              • Avatar notme says:

                What are you talking about. Liberals tell us all the time that folks should get stuff simpley bc they are human and take up space.Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                To be fair, liberals say that poor people should get stuff BOTH because (a) that’s what we feel that basic humanity requires, and (b) because when the wealthy keep too much stuff the mob arrives with pitchforks and tumbrils.

                Rioting and civil war would interfere with our ability to be all snooty and superior and annoying and liking Hamilton, The Musical.Report

              • Avatar notme says:

                Thank goodness liberals are looking out for rich folks by taking that extra wealth so the mobs don’t have to. I guess the rich folks should thank you.Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                well of course. noblesse oblige (a French expression, but all good fancy liberals like myself speak French) and all that. Can’t have those nouveau riche (also French) tracking up the place without understanding their place. They can have a ton of money, but set policy?

                Quelle horreur. (still French.)Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                You see, if the rich weren’t taxed, then when those mobs showed up at the estate gates, they’d be met with machine guns and flame throwers, so there is really no reason to tax the rich to avoid the riots.

                The riots will act as a way to reduce the surplus population of the poor. See how it all works out!Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Machine guns are so 1940s. These days, the rich will merely move to Paraguay. (extra crunchy bonus points if you get the reference).Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Call me a sucker for 40’s era Browing twin 50s.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The thing about rich folks is that they have a fairly easy time earning money from middle-class folks. Give more money to the middle class and the rich get richer. Well, the smart rich, at any rate — and ain’t those the ones we want to incentivize?Report

        • Not stay at home and watch soap operas and eat bon bons!

          Which will turn them into one-eyed mutants.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        Potentially because other countries generally figure capitalism can look out for its own self?Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          I am not sure what your comment means.Report

          • Avatar dragonfrog says:

            What I’m getting at is, in the US more than in the average country, “This is an attack on capitalism,” gets a response along the lines of “We must defend it! To the Coasemobile!”

            In most countries, at least when seen contrasted with the US, the response is something closer to “I see. And what outcome can we expect from this attack?” before deciding whether to join the attack, the defence, or to sit this one out.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Many Americans have adopted the belief in free market capitalism and intense support for private property as a creed in the American religion. This is why so many Further Left types were always considered more dangerously subversive in the United States than in other Western countries or why American-style libertarianism is a thing.Report

    • Avatar Lyle says:

      One other way is to add a payroll tax to pay for it charged to all those with w-2 wages. (This would include some leave fathers as well, and actually apply for the entire scope of family and medical leaves. In California where such a system exists the tax to pay for it is about 1%. (.9 for 2015 and 2016) So in essence make it a social insurance program paid for by those who could benefit from it. Note that the CA program essentially covers the entire scope of the FMLA act, so that men can benefit from it as well. (The Ca program covers 12 weeks of leave)Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    When it comes to these questions, the answer seems to be a combination of structural racism and the fact that a good chunk of the United States is so business and anti-tax minded (in a Calvinist-Puritanical-Moralist kind of way) and refuses to embrace even the smallest welfare state programs need to be fought against with all power.

    I’m pretty serious about this. Unless someone believes in structural racism, it is almost impossible to convince them that it exists. In general, convincing someone that something is structural rather than cyclical or anything else is a nearly impossible task.

    The closest thing we have to mandatory paid maternal/paternal leave is FEMA. FEMA was written inadvertently in such a way that the most likely people to take advantage of it are white, professional women. Partially because they wrote FEMA. Also because for welfare state provisions to work in the United States, they need to be written in such a way that white, professionals benefit first and then it trickles down to everyone else (if it ever does.)

    Paid maternal/paternal leave is growing but it seems to mainly grow in areas known for a strong-liberalism (San Francisco) and/or in really hot industries like tech that only recruit from the best of the best young people and even then it is not available to all Netflix employees:

    The other bit is that paternity leave needs to be paid with via taxes and the Grover Norquist anti-tax extremism is still going strong among many Americans.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      “FEMA was written inadvertently in such a way that the most likely people to take advantage of it are white, professional women.”

      Inadvertent?! You think so?Report

    • Avatar Francis says:

      btw, FEMA for FMLA is a great typo. I’ve been imagining how FMLA would work if it were structured like FEMA.

      (It’s actually kind of creepy. Treating birth as a natural disaster may be accurate for the parents but isn’t really the way that society as a whole should be responding.)Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Breitbart would be warning us of FMLA camps, where wives and mothers would forcibly re-educate men to change diapers and leave the seat down.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        Encourage people to lay in adequate supplies, organize to bring food and clean laundry to those affected, stay inside and drink beer until things blow over. Sounds not far off.Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’m going to join with Saul and also point out that the political structure of the United States creates a lot of veto points. Even if the majority of Americans wanted paid leave and other welfare measures for mothers or anybody else, there are many steps in the process of creating laws that allow opponents to kill them dead.Report

  6. Avatar Catchling says:

    Hey, if the laws actually did enough for mothers, they wouldn’t be so praise-worthily strong anymore, would they?

    (sarcasm disclaimer)Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    How can we make the two-income trap better?

    At this point, I think that the biggest gains are to be found in exploration of one of the partners in a joint-parenthood relationship being a stay-at-home one.

    If there’s a problem that strikes me as being incredibly resistant to technocratic tweaking, it’s this one.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Years ago, I remember an Atlantic article that stated less educated and skilled women were more likely to stay at home with the kids than educated women. The argument went that the couples did the math and found that the woman’s Econ input to the fam was not that great.

      I also saw a lot of resistance to the article because people are wedded to the idea that only wealthy women could afford to stay at home. People love hate reading trend pieces about female Ivy grads who become housewives.

      I suppose the two income thing is around because of cost of living, being used to a lifestyle and not wanting to downgrade, and few people wanting to give up jobs/careers.

      Though I still suspect that the right-libertarians prefer stay at home because it means less government action.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I suppose the two income thing is around because of cost of living, being used to a lifestyle and not wanting to downgrade, and few people wanting to give up jobs/careers.

        There’s another dynamic.

        Many goods are positional goods. That is to say, they’re about “keeping up”.

        Which means that people are running faster to stay where they are.

        Providing better performance enhancing drugs to the runners might sound like a good idea at first, but when we find that everybody takes them, suddenly, we realize that everyone is still in the same place because these goods that we’re fighting for are positional goods.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          And, in modern times, there’s a strong social movement towards moving goods from “positional” to “vital”. Like, the pushback on “OWS has smartphones so they must not be poor”, which occurred in living memory of sneers about “crackberries”.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            I think a case can be made for smart phones because I do get e-mails discussing freelance projects starting tomorrow and you need to reply within an hour to get it. Or calls.

            Others are more on the fence.

            I have been working on a theory that for people to really save money, they should act like their income is less than it is by a third or a half. So someone making 80K should live like they make 40K.

            Yet this requires a hard level of dedication. You would need to put up with long commutes, etc.

            Lawyers who work on billable hours would lose time from commuting. If you work 10 or 12 hour days, short commutes are nice.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Because you’re not the sort of freelancer whose bosses will bitch to high heaven if they catch you outside the house using traffic cameras… (What sort of person hires one guy for 24/7 work on a project??!?)

              The cellphone stays at home, because if reachable, must fix problem immediately. Even if its an alligator in the server room.Report

            • Avatar Damon says:

              Life’s about choices.

              In my state, there is a geographic income divide. Same job same skill set same experience. You cross the line and the wage is 10+k higher. Why? Higher standard of living (cost) than the other side. Wages higher. So, folk live in the cheaper side and work in the more expensive side. Result? Longer commutes. I’ve been doing this for 20 years.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Lawyers who work on billable hours would lose time from commuting. If you work 10 or 12 hour days, short commutes are nice.

              If you could work from home, you could put in 14 hour days!Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              A good way to save is to ignore raises. “Okay, I lived decently enough on $80K. I got a 5% raise. Inflation is 3%. I can save $1600/year and still live just as decently as I did before.”

              Unfortunately, most people tend to say, “A 5% raise? That’s $4000/year. I can get a bigger apartment for $300 more per month and still come out on top.” Whoops.Report

              • Avatar Lyle says:

                Which is how the automatic contribution increases to 401ks work, you get a raise and some percentage of the raise goes into the 401kReport

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Assuming folks are contributing to their 401K.

                I didn’t contribute to my 403b off the bat at new job because I had a dratically evolving financial situation. I settled things and stayed just in the black in year 1. Year 2 is bringing a 6% raise. I’m immediately contributing 5% — earning a full match — and leaving myself with enough left over to account for some expected expense increases. I could have forgone another year and upgrade apartments and planned a trip but that would have been irresponsible. Too many folks are irresponsible these days.Report

              • Avatar Lyle says:

                But of course the new trend is to move to requiring one to act to opt out of 401ks i.e. automatic enrollment. This idea from behavioral economics is tied to the automatic increase idea. If you make a decision to opt out that is ok, but you must actively decide and take action to opt out.Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              @saul-degraw the problem with the theory is that it assumes you are making enough to cut back that much.

              if a person is making 20 k a year, sacrificing 10 to live they’re only making 10 is a LOT harder than giving up 40 to live like they’re making 40.

              And that’s before you throw any major disasters into the mix.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                Of course, I was speculatingReport

              • Avatar j r says:


                The problem there is that when you look at the places in the world with the highest rates of personal savings, they are places where people earn significantly lower incomes than in the U.S. If you look at savings rate in the U.S. If there is something that keeps Americans from saving at higher rates, it’s something more than lack of income.

                And this tracks back to why I am skeptical about the so-called two-income trap. Yes, there has been a clear stagnation in median income since, say, the 1960s, but at the same time it takes relatively low income to consume goods and services at a rate comparable to the average household in the 1960s. People are making a clear choice to to consume more instead of saving. I don’t begrudge anyone that decision, but I don’t think that we do people any favors by pretending that it is largely outside of their hands.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                “If there is something that keeps Americans from saving at higher rates, it’s something more than lack of income.”
                Yes, I call it capitalism. Put simply, all those stinking monthly bills.

                The two-income trap is about people spending more than one income’s worth on NECESSITIES, not simply spending more, by the way. If you spend more than one income’s worth on “house, food, electricity, one car”, you’re doing something wrong and are in jeopardy if either person loses their job.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                You don’t have to have cable/sat tv.
                You don’t have to have a 60 inch plasma tv
                You don’t have to have a new car every 5 years
                You don’t have to buy a new car
                You don’t have to buy a BMW
                You don’t have to have a single familly house on .5 acres with a deck and pool
                You don’t have to send you kids to private primary / secondary / college
                You don’t have to vacation in europe
                You don’t have to go out to dinner 10 times a monthReport

              • Avatar Kim says:

                There are things that you can cut freely (cable tv).
                There are things that you’d automatically cut if one parent lost a job (second car, second insurance).
                And there are things that do catastrophic damage to your entire life if you have to cut them (having to sell your house during an economic crash).

                You don’t HAVE to have any of these, but I think we can at least say that being able to pay necessities out of one income is the best form of financial discipline.Report

              • Avatar Holly says:

                There are also plenty of middle class parents that I know who have already made these sacrifices and still struggle financially on what would be considered by most as a “reasonable” income. They live within their means, they forgo luxuries and are in a home that is perfectly suited to their needs (aka not too big for the number of people inhabiting it).

                These parents took carefully considered the number of children they wanted to have based on income and lifestyle. They were sensible. Yet they still struggle. Sometimes it’s not as easy as just saying cut your cable and sell a car. The cost of living has been exceeding income for years already and only continues to increase.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                The cost of living has been exceeding income for years already and only continues to increase.

                Out of curiosity, what’s the basis for this claim?

                We are in an era of historically low inflation right now, which would tend to point in the other direction.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                If someone says A is greater than B, you really can’t get away by saying “A is really tiny.” Because B may very well be negative…

                THAT said, if we’re not putting kids three to a room and one bathroom per house, I’d say that the “cost of living” is more a “cost of shiny happy living” instead.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Do these people have multiple kids per bedroom? Time was that that was standard.
                What they consider a luxury and what I do is probably a bit different — I consider a car to often be a luxury, for example.
                Having anything more than a burner cellphone is absolutely a luxury — do your friends have one per kid?

                Cut your cable, sell a car are emergency things to get you out of a difficult situation. If you don’t plan for difficult situations, I’m a lot less inclined to bail you out of the REALLY difficult ones.

                And what’s “struggle” really? Do they send their kids to school in illfitting clothes? Do they have trouble feeding them? Do they send their kids to someone else for the summer because they can’t afford them?

                Struggle certainly isn’t “can’t afford a vacation.”Report

              • Avatar Holly says:

                Of course not all of the people in this bracket live the same, but yes, there are several that I know on a “typical” middle class income who have several children to a room, in a 2 bedroom apartment. A car is a necessity for them as there is no public transportation where they live and so have no alternative means of getting to work. None of the children have a cellphone.

                I would agree with you regarding cutting cable, that is certainly not a necessity. However I would disagree with the car. In regards to struggle, yes they do have trouble in making sure that food is on the table as a result of medical debt (despite health insurance).

                I certainly was not trying to imply that not having a vacation was struggling, by no means. But my point still stands that just because you are making a certain level of income does not mean that you don’t struggle financially for whatever reason.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                “necessities out of one income is the best form of financial discipline.”


              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Wouldn’t this just kill the market? Its true in a technical sense that nobody needs luxury or consumer goods. For most of human history, most of us did with the minimal. Humans did start making luxury goods as soon as we learned how to craft things though. Its the basis of civilization and wealth.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                It would — if you fired half the people all at once. All I’m saying is “don’t spend more than 50% of your combined income on necessities” (or on trappy non-necessities that cost you money to break contract). If you don’t have one person lose a job frequently, you should be spending MORE on luxuries, not LESS. Because if you spend less on necessities, you either save it or you spend it on frivolity.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    I have to push back against this idea that, if we valued motherhood better as a culture, we would be subsidizing it more. That sort of thinking is how you end up with not great policies like the home mortgage interest deduction and truly terrible laws, like just about every law named after a dead kid.

    If subsidizing time off with kids is the beneficial thing to do, then make the argument in terms of costs and benefits. In general, I think that the nature of work dictates that we are moving towards working arrangements that are more and more flexible. The problem with policies like mandating parental leave is that it forces employers to make a specific in-kind accommodation to employees, which may or may not be beneficial to any given employee. Maybe some employees want less leave and more money. Maybe some others want less money and more leave. By forcing one arrangement on everyone, you may end up making lots of people worse off. So, the question is whether the people being unequivocally helped by these laws outweighs the potential harm done to others. And that is an empirical question.

    Also, as @tim-m points out, how is passing laws that push more of the burdens of having and raising children onto employers, the clearly ethical choice? If subsidizing motherhood/parenthood is the right thing to do, either from an ethical or an economic point of view, then we’d be better of directly subsidizing it in a way that does the least amount of economic distortion and does the least to dissuade employers from hiring women in the first place.

    As always, the relevant questions to ask are do we want policies that allow us to be self-congratulatory in how progressive we are or do we want policies that bring the most benefit for the most people and for the people who would otherwise be the worse off?Report

    • truly terrible laws, like just about every law named after a dead kid.

      Religions named after dead guys can be pretty awful too.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      There may be honest, practical things that we should do (like breastfeeding)…
      giving a woman time off that she may not “need” is not the best solution.
      HOWEVER, if we can show better outcomes, then perhaps it is warranted.
      Cheaper to help a kid at age .5 than at age 16 with a gun in his hand, no?Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      “how is passing laws that push more of the burdens of having and raising children onto employers, the clearly ethical choice?”

      I was hinting at that when I asked Holly “I’d be interested in the justifications for your recommendations, both from moral and economic perspective, since it seems you are asserting that I should pay for this.”

      *crickets* Everyone is busy taking positions on the shooting.Report

      • Avatar Lyle says:

        But why not pay for it with a payroll tax on employees. After all the leaves are a form of insurance and social insurance this is just socialized insurance. The comment about Canada shows it as social insurance and in Ca it is social insurance paid by workers as a 1% payroll tax.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Why do you assume that people advocating for paid parental leave are only doing it to show how progressive they are and to be self-congratulatory?

      Why can nearly every other nation in the world enact paid paternal leave without going into fits about the end of capitalism and pity the poor corporations?Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater says:

    the only three countries in the world that do not provide paid maternity leave to their moms.

    Holy shit! I actually had to go to an outside source to confirm that you were right.

    Well, I guess it shows that we Murkins value radical rugged individualism and bootstraps more than creating a decent society. Nothing new there, tho, I suppose.

    Edit: actually, one source I found said that Suriname didn’t have maternity leave, either. So maybe it’s up to four?Report

    • Avatar North says:

      What’s especially rich is that the self appointed guardians of the existing order on maternity leave spend a not inconsiderable amount of time fretting aloud at how low the birth rates are for women of their preferred groups.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        This. The people most concerned about low birth rates are the most likely to fight against any measure to make getting pregnant and raising children easier with tooth, claw, and nail.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Yet we still have stories of Chinese women leaving their natal paradise of paid leave and travelling the the hell hole of the USA to give birth.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Well, if women who have paid maternity leave in their home country are immigrating to the US it’s crystal clear that they prefer a society with no maternity leave. I mean, why else would those women have come here?Report

  10. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    It’s surprising how much of American society is still based on the notion that Dad is in the union and works nine-to-five while Mom stays at home to look after the 2.3 kids.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      This would be the ideal for many on the American right but I don’t think its driving the opposition to paid maternity leave. Like Saul, I think it just happens to come from the part of the American psyche that hated welfare spending but loved the untrammeled market.Report

  11. Avatar Dand says:

    I support taxpayer foundered parental leave is long as there is cap of about $4000 month, or about the median income. America shouldn’t be subsidizing the lifestyles of the upper middle class.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      But subsidizing the middle class, lower middle class, and all the lower classes, that’s just fine huh?Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      1) Hire a pregnant woman for 4000 a month.
      2) Hire her replacement for 2500 a month.
      3) Pocket the subsidy, pay the salary, and profit!Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Yeah, she’ll just shove the little bugger into some random woman’s arms and eat T-bones with champagne chasers all day….Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          It’s moments like this I wish we had more female commenters…Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          My understanding of Dand’s proposal was an employer subsidy not an employee subsidy. (Because that’s who needs the incentive for paid parental leave)

          Cause if we’re paying people not to work, let’s just do UBI/GBI and cut out a lot of paperwork and means testing.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Ahh. OK. That makes sense. (I was thinking of it as an employee subsidy).


            Still, even in that situation how does the employer simply pocket the subsidy?Report

            • Avatar Kolohe says:

              My misunderstanding of the plan was to make parental leave cost free for the employer – by the government paying the employer the salary that the employee on leave was getting.

              Company ABC pays person X $4000 a month.

              Person x goes on family leave, so the company applies for and gets a grant for 4000 a month to keep paying person x while on leave.

              *right now* Company ABC is in a better financial situation than they were before, because there’s on net 4k less in salary expenses.

              If company ABC just gaps the job and have other people already on staff cover the duties of the vacant position, it’s a reduction in expenses, at the price of whatever hit in productivity they’re willing to take.

              If they do hire a temp, whatever the difference between 4k and what the temp is making is still a plus to the bottom line. (Again, with whatever productivity hit they’re willing to take. But if the temp is better than person x, it’s win win)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Ahh. Thanks for clarifying. I figured you had something in mind I wasn’t smart enough to figure out on my own.

                Course, if the company could fill that spot with a 2500/mth temp and get the same productivity long term, they wouldn’t be paying preggo 4000/mth, right? So it seems to me the subsidy in and of itself doesn’t really constitute any particular incentive to the firm one way or the other.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Because you’re asking for a discrimination / wrongful termination lawsuit if you do it straight upReport

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                It’s kind of like that in Canada, FWIW.

                Here we pay into employment insurance premiums on income up to about $50,000 a year (the maximum EI insurable earnings). Should we become unemployed, we can claim EI, and receive 55% of our previous average income for a time. How long those benefits extend depends on a few factors, mostly how long you worked before becoming unemployed.

                Usually you can only claim EI if you got laid off, not if you quit, but parental leave is one of the allowable grounds to claim EI.

                The employer is entirely out of the picture, financially – they pay into EI for the regular employee when they are working, for any temp they hire to cover the position, and not for anyone on leave. The only burden on the employer is they have to accept the parent back at the end of their leave. Getting hired to cover maternity leave is one common way of getting a foot in the door at an employer – if you’re good, the company will start looking for positions to offer you as the end of the mat leave approaches.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                File under sensible Canadian proposals.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                One of these days someone’s going to read the file and find out it’s all just lorem ipsum dolor sit amet. Maybe.Report

          • Avatar Dand says:

            I was proposing an employee subsidy with a benefit cap not and employer subsidy or means testing.Report

    • Avatar scott the mediocre says:

      Freudian slip there with “foundered”? It’s an interesting autocorrect from a string that’s a low Hamming distance from “funded”.

      More substantively, agreed on the idea of the cap, but slow phaseouts tend to produce less distortion than a hard cutoff – something like

      E = wages and other employer costs eligible for subsidy (per unit time)
      C = cap to subsidy (per same unit of time), somewhat greater than the hard cutoff cap
      S = subsidy

      if (E / C) C) then S = C else
      // example phaseout curve dS/dE = sqrt(2 – 2E/C)
      // so at E = .75*C subsidy = 71% the incremental employer cost
      // not putting the definite integral here because it’s a bit lengthyReport

  12. Avatar j r says:

    Of all the arguments in favor of legally mandating a certain level of family leave, the America is the only developed country that doesn’t has to be one of the least persuasive. On the one hand, that claim glosses a whole lot of meaningful analysis regarding the costs, benefits and performance of other countries’ social welfare programs. On the other hand, so what? At the time of ratifying the U.S. constitution, we may well have been the only “developed” nation not ruled by a hereditary monarch. Did that make it wrong?

    American Exceptionalism is not a very good argument for supporting any particular policy, but that means that neither is its opposite.

    PS in anticipation of certain responses – I’m not saying that we cannot learn from other countries. I believe in the benefits of comparative public policy, but it’s clear to me that most folks deploying this argument are doing no such thing. Rather, they are using this in an almost completely rhetorical manner. It works great as a lament among the already convinced, but it has limited appeal outside of that circle.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      It’s an even weaker argument in this case because the argument is not just only developed country without such and such, but one of the few countries without it period.

      Which reminds me of how the Soviet Union constitution was so great because it guaranteed all sorts of cool things.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Yes, I purposefully kept this to dealing with comparisons to other developed country as a form of stealmanning. When you start looking at these benefits and entitlements in developing countries you soon find that it is often the case that half the labor force works in agriculture or in the informal economy and, therefore, is ineligible for any of it.

        another PS – As an expat, I am often guilty of this very thing I am criticizing. It seems that the U.S. and Eritrea are the only two countries that tax its citizens regardless of where income is earned.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          the U.S. and Eritrea are the only two countries that tax its citizens regardless of where income is earned

          Clearly we should stop doing this.Report

          • Avatar Holly says:

            I would certainly agree with this. Although there is a lower limit (I believe $80k) before paying taxes regardless of location, this is one of the main reasons that I emigrated from the UK rather than my husband moving instead.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              That $80K limit isn’t much of a limit. How many people are going overseas for a $40K-$50K job?Report

              • Avatar Holly says:

                Oh I completely agree, I think the whole premise is ridiculous regardless of income level. As a Brit, I now live in the US but only pay taxes to the country that I live and earn in, which is as it should be.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      I agree that just because many other countries have it doesn’t mean we should. However a common argument against such policies are that they don’t work or can’t be done. Seeing that they are done in many other countries suggests that these kind of policies are very workable and within reach. So discussing the costs and benefits are fine and should be the debate we have. But to many critics want to ignore the apparent success of other countries. Hell that was like half of the entire debate about health care reform.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        The policies work in the countries where everything works well already. I’m thinking, for example, Saudi Arabia’s policy is probably great on paper, not so much in practice.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Things work well here compared to many places. So? These kind of policies work well in many places. That is an easy and powerful argumentative chip for the Pro side. I’ve seen a million time how the Anti side want to avoid dealing with it. The best counter is to say how cultures are different in different places so what works in most of the rest of the developed world just won’t work here. Not a bad argument but not all that great either since lots of the things work well across the developed world. Free markets being one of them. Of course lots of people who want to use the different culture argument are also more than happy to point to other countries success as something we should copy when it works for them.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        I don’t see how answering a bad argument with another bad argument somehow equals everything out. As I said, if the American Exceptionalism argument is bad, then so is its opposite.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          “As I said, if the American Exceptionalism argument is bad, then so is its opposite.”

          Is this necessarily so? How come?Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            I define a good argument by its ability to do certain things. In order of importance, those things include: offering evidence in support of a position, persuading those who disagree with that position, and/or strengthening support among those who already hold it.

            Both of those arguments are relatively good at doing the third thing, mediocre at best on the second, and terrible at the first.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I suppose there are (at least) two main questions to answer…

              A) Is this a good idea (i.e., desirable)?
              B) Can it be done (i.e., is there a path where the cost-benefit analysis works)?

              Both are important to answer, though I suppose we should probably answer A) before B).

              “Everyone else is doing it” doesn’t definitively answer B) but can be really, really helpful in getting there… especially if you really have a robust and diverse set of paths and can find one approximating the situation in which you find yourself.

              But it probably doesn’t do much with A) in most situations. And it seems you’re focusing primarily on A) (which, again, seems prudent)?Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                … especially if you really have a robust and diverse set of paths and can find one approximating the situation in which you find yourself.

                That’s what I mean when I say comparative public policy.

                Lamenting that “we are the only developed country that doesn’t do X” is no more a meaningful exercise in comparative public policy than proclaiming, “we’re America and that’s just the way we do things!”Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                (Psst, j r – bring up the factoid about how the US in one of the only developed countries and of the few countries of any type that does jus soli citizenship)Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I tend to see both sorts of arguments arrive when discussing school policy.

                “This is how we’ve always done things!”
                “Everyone else is doing it!”

                Now, the issues are a little bit different because we are, at our heart, private businesses in a competitive sector so “brand fidelity” and “keeping up with our competitors” are both real factors that impact what we do (as much as we might like to pretend otherwise). But, as you point out, both fall apart as justifications in their own right. I actually tend to respond similarly to both arguments, albeit from very different starting points…

                “We’ve been doing this one thing this same way for 10 (20 or 100) years? It is probably worth investigating if this is how we want to keep doing it.”
                “Everyone else is doing this one thing this certain way? It is probably worth investigating why they are and if it makes sense for us to adopt.”

                I don’t know the answer but the question of, “How do we want to approach parental leave and related topics?” seems one very much worth investigating.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          I’m not making the Amer Ex argument at all. I’m just saying that is i’m for policy X and i can point to dozens of countries where that policy works that is a solid point for my argument. It proves that policy X is feasible. It doesn’t mean we should do it. But it sure as hell sinks the argument that X can’t work. Showing something has worked in the real world is always a good thing. Not the final say in any way but always good.Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            Then I’m not really sure what your point is. I went out of my way to make a distinction between meaningfully engaging with policy examples in other countries and the “all the other countries have it” argument.

            If you support the former, then great. We’re in agreement.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I would have liked this argument a LOT BETTER than the OP.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Of all the arguments in favor of legally mandating a certain level of family leave, the America is the only developed country that doesn’t has to be one of the least persuasive.

      Perhaps you will change your mind when I point out that it is 2016.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Why would the year pursuade me?

        Good arguments would pursuade me. A sober assessment of the associated costs and benefits would pursuade me. A well thought out proposal for implementation would pursuade me.

        The rest is window dressing. And as much I like having a nice window to impress the neighbors, I’m not going to prioritize it above other things.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          Ahem, I believe the comment was a joke piling on. Possibly I’m wrong, but in the past Jaybird has displayed a striking resilience to ratio secundum annum.Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            Ohh… in that case you will have to forgive me as I had to sell a bit of the part of my brain that recognizes sarcasm in order to pay the tithings required when I joined the Most High Church of Free Market. On the bright side, my membership did get me a very reasonable deal on a new top hat and monocle.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:


      Of all the arguments in favor of legally mandating a certain level of family leave, the America is the only developed country that doesn’t has to be one of the least persuasive.

      I get this, but I disagree. Or perhaps more accurately, I see it slightly differently, in the same way I see similar “only developed country that doesn’t” arguments about healthcare, gun control, and everything else slightly differently.

      If the argument exists in a vacuum, then yeah, it’s pretty weak tea.

      If one of the arguments against doing X is, “Doing X is impossible, and if you try to do X the country will fall into economic/social ruin, because a non-third world country needs to maintain a total absence of X to survive,” then I actually find it helpful to learn that there are lots of other developed countries that do indeed have X, and have had X for quite some time.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        The fact that other places do X is a data point, not an argument. It is supportive, not convincing. I mean, many first world countries have much weaker free speech protections than the US does. Does that convince you that we should weaken the 1st Amendment, or is it merely a data point to consider?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Appealing to the near universality of paid maternity leave constitutes an argument against a specific type of objection: that such policies are unworkable or impossible to implement. It doesn’t constitute an argument that such policies are normatively desirable (tho it is evidence that almost every other country/society DOES view such policies as normatively desirable).

          So further argument is required, and at one of two levels. One level assumes that paid maternity leave is a desirable policy and the burden for implementing that policy requires demonstrating that actual policy will lead to better outcomes given {list of ideologically-based usual suspects}.

          The other level challenges that idea that paid maternity leave is a normatively desirable policy in and of itself, which in turn (seems to me) challenges the idea that there is something fundamentally good (morally) or beneficial (instrumentally) in mothers bonding with new-borns in the weeks or months after they were born.

          I think this last level is the stickiest.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Fine, go ahead, say it better than I did…Report

          • Avatar Autolukos says:

            This has been repeatedly asserted, but it doesn’t actually describe the unversality argument’s deployment in the OP. To review:

            Can you find the country named Oman on a map? What about Papua New Guinea? You may be surprised to find out that the United States and those two countries are on the same notorious short list: the only three countries in the world that do not provide paid maternity leave to their moms. That’s right. Even bastions of human rights like China and North Korea offer better maternity leave than the United States.

            While objections to the policy’s practicality are discussed elsewhere, the examples there are all domestic. The only deployment of the international comparison is an attempt to shame by comparison to China and North Korea, which, while normal in my experience of these arguments (well, the exact choice of comparisons differ), is not terribly persuasive.Report

            • And both of those countries were obviously founded on sexism. Just look at their names: “O Man” and “Papa’s New Guinea”.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              The only deployment of the international comparison is an attempt to shame by comparison to China and North Korea,

              Yes, obviously. But only because the person making the claim thinks that paid maternity leave is an (obviously!) normatively good policy. So the argumentative dynamic is to impose a burden on the person who doesn’t view the policy as normatively good to ‘splain themselves.

              And that’s what I think the debate ultimately devolves to: the technocrat demands an argument not for a specific policy, but that the policy (in and of itself, ceteris paribus) is normatively good.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          I have a hard time thinking about what convinces.

          As far as I can tell, ideological trenches are dug and no one is changing sides because the fight is really about size and scope of the government and taxes and our deeply held Calvinism that blames people personally for not being among the elect who work for companies that provide paternity leave.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


            In general, sure, but this sub thread is dealing in particular with a person who is saying, “I’m open to the idea, but arguments made where the bulk of their supporting evidence is intended to (in essence) guilt me into supporting the idea will fall flat. Do you have any evidence that is less emotional appeal, more data driven?”

            Which is why I said that the fact that other countries do it is supporting evidence, but can not be the bulk of the argument. What (if any) results, positive or negative, can we glean from the other countries who have done this? What are the costs? Do you have a Cost-Benefits Analysis?

            Holly (despite my agreeing with her on this) has made a largely emotional appeal for paid maternity leave. That’s fine if you are preaching to the choir, but it tends not to win too many converts.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        As is said to @greginak, I am just as unimpressed by bad arguments based on American Exceptionality, but I don’t see the point in responding with equally bad arguments in the other direction.

        Maybe I need to flesh out the difference between comparative public policy and the kind of argument about which I am talking. If you’re thinking about implementing a new policy or looking for policy alternatives for a particular problem, then it is absolutely a smart thing to look at existing examples from other cities, states, countries whatever. It is absolutely the smart thing to say Country A had problem X and implemented solution 1, which resulted in a, b and c outcomes, Country B had problem X implemented solution 1.1, which resulted in x, y, and z outcomes. Now let’s discuss what these cases can say about our own issues with problem X.

        I dont see a lot of that. Instead I see a lot of we should be ashamed to be the only developed country that hasn’t implemented solution 1, but of course we are because America is full of people who – insert preferred pseudo psychological/ideological pet theory about people who disagree with you – and refuse to accept the unambiguous truth of this here collection of studies of dubious methodology that attest to the absolute efficacy of solution 1, well at least under certain conditions and for a certain duration and if you close one eye and kind of squint when you look at the data, but why do we even need studies anyway to prove to us the common decency of solution 1? After all, we are the only developed country that hasn’t …”Report

  13. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Paid maternity leave is one welfare benefit I support. Bug had a rough start & being able to get to doctor appointments and all that, without worrying about time or income, made it a lot easier to sort out the new scheduling, and we were both in much better places when we went back than we’d have been if we’d be worried about everything.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      This is what I was getting at up above.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      Huh, when my son was born my supervisor called my in just two days after, for some reason we couldn’t let projects slip one more day or something along those lines.

      When the minority next to me needed time off, they found a full two weeks for the guy plus more if he needed it, which he took. We were both doing exactly the same work on exactly the same projects, same pay, same benefits package. So in effect I was doubled in work load for three and a half weeks.

      I don’t hold any animosity in the events, I just continue to question what my end of justice/fairness was supposed to look like. It weighted into future decisions about opportunities to stay or leave that entity.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        My office had (at the time) less than 50 people, so my company did not offer me any official paternity leave. They did let me burn up all my vacation and gave me 2 weeks unpaid so I could take 6 weeks off, so that was helpful.

        My wife had an emergency C-section, so she needed a few months off to recover. Between burning vacation and a rather nice disability insurance policy we pay for (that kicked in when she had the C-section), she got paid the whole time (although most of it was at 75% pay, but still).

        The disability policy, which we pay about $30/month for, helped a lot.Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal says:

          Mine nearly had to have the C-section, but she battled it out for 30 hours and made it happen.

          I would have gladly taken 4 weeks unpaid if it was given as an option. My benefits package was supposed to include two weeks. She wasn’t employed at the time, but stayed busy staging materials while we built our home.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            After 40 hours, Bug was in distress. I never seen a surgery happen so fast. It was a bit anxious for the first few hours after he was born, but then he rallied and has been going strong ever since.Report

  14. Avatar Kim says:

    Since one can take unpaid leave to have a baby, can I ask someone to pull together the numbers that a parent gets for having a young child?

    Off the top of my head, we’ve got WIC and the Dependent Tax Break… are there more?

    Just because we aren’t paying out “Family Leave” the same way everyone else is, doesn’t mean we ain’t payin’ people. Tax laws are complex.Report

  15. Avatar Holly says:

    The government at the state and federal level does all kinds of things to promote family stability and human welfare. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are all enormously popular programs that ameliorate some of the harshness of 20th and now 21st century life in these United States.

    The rationale for adding paid family leave to the suite of benefits that the governments provide to their citizens is that being a new mother is very challenging even for middle class families.And since there are a lot of single mothers and working mothers and single working mothers in our society, it is in society’s best interest to pay them a stipend until they can get back to work.

    PFL (paid family leave) is not intended to be a hammock.Instead, much like short term disability, it is a bridge that is intended to allow women (and men!) to bond with their new family and restructure their lives before returning to work.

    There are probably studies out there about the economic return of early bonding — better kids, happier parents — but for me it’s really a moral issue.American government really does less for its citizens than just about any other industrialized country. But there is more to life than work, and I think our country would be a better place if new mothers and fathers didn’t feel quite so much economic pressure to return to work.

    Apologies folks, I tend not to be online after 4pm to comment. But Damon, in response to your asking for my rationale, I think Francis summed it up nicely above. IMO the govt already provides significant benefits for other, perhaps less important, aspects of life so why should this not be one? As a British expat and having friends from all over Europe that benefit from a range of maternal leave policies (I won’t get into paternal leave as that’s a whole other can of worms), the fact that the US still does not have anything both baffles and disgusts me.

    As a society, we all benefit when mothers are given the opportunity to spend the early weeks and months with their offspring. Businesses benefit from being able to keep their skilled workers (studies have suggested that women with paid leave are far more likely to return to work than those who are forced into leaving the workforce as they cannot afford childcare), children are given early bonding experiences that will no doubt influence them in later life. Honestly, it seems like a no-brainer to me.

    As far as costs are concerned, yes, the taxpayer would ultimately be the initial source but I see no reason for this being a problem as plenty of other countries around the world have managed to accomplish this without huge tax increases. Taxes will go up regardless of whether there is paid maternity care of not, for funding pointless wars and god knows what else. I would much rather see more of my hard-earned money that I’m already having to fork over to the establishment go towards something that has no downside for the ultimate recipient than anything else that we’re already paying for.

    As far as a moral justification, I strongly believe in the “it takes a village” mentality, just that this village is much larger. You will likely disagree, but I believe that we all have a social responsibility to care for and support each other and this should absolutely fall under that category.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Why do we need yet another program, precisely? I contend that we’re already paying money to parents with small children, in the form of Dependent Tax Credit and WIC. You haven’t shown how much these are already paying, nor have you shown why you think that middle class women deserve more money for bearing brats than a poor homeless woman working as a laundrywoman.Report

  16. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I’ve never understood why the pro-life movement hasn’t ever tried coupling things like paid maternity leave for both sexes, and other such similar things like access to BC, to bills that limit abortions after 20 weeks (or some other number). Pushing for one set of things while pushing for the other strikes me as a way that you could get real movement to your side over a generation.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      You’d think that the pro-choicers would be able to get some of the fiscal conservatives on board with saying “abortions mean less paid maternity leave!”

      (In my experience, deontologists see the tacking on of additional utilitarian benefits to any given policy as a bad thing. It’s an indicator that, when the social benefit/utility of any given policy changes, the proper thing to do is jump ship to the new benefit/utility rather than continue to embrace the principle which remains unchanged in the face of temporary social advantage for politically connected special interest groups.)Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      Of course, I could reply by suggesting that not subsidizing single-motherhood is one of those Pigouvian taxes technocrats love so much; discouraging a certain behaviour by applying financial penalties to it.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        The question you have to ask then is, does it work. Does failing to provide a benefit cause a reduction in births to single mothers? Does providing that benefit cause an increase?

        Note that what we are talking about isn’t 18 years of welfare payments, but a few months of them. If we have a statistically significant number* of single women getting pregnant for 3-4 months of paid vacation (wherein they will be recovering from birth, and getting little sleep, and being constantly exhausted, etc.), then I’d have to say, we have a different problem on our hands. On the flip side, how many single mother pregnancies are carried to term despite the lack of paid maternity leave? Compare that to how many educated, professional women make the choice not to have children because the lack of maternity leave will affect their careers?

        *i.e. hard data, not media spun pearl clutching anecdotes.Report

        • Incentives! Marginal cost! Free stuff!Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Something I’m trying to figure out how to put into a coherent question.

          Imagine two couples. One has four children. One has zero.

          A policy that convinces the former to have a fifth child but not the latter to have a first child is different from a policy that convinces the latter to have a first child but not the former to have a fifth.

          But, from a bird’s eye view, the policies are identical. We’ve gone from four kids to five kids.

          Knowing nothing at all about these couples other than the number of kids that they have, is there any compelling reason to wish for either the former or the latter to be the one who is convinced to have a (or another) child?Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Depends on the goal. Is the goal a higher birthrate? Then the only metric of concern is more kids, preferably to families that can support them. If a family with 4 kids can easily accommodate a fifth, versus a family that would have a hard time managing a first, then policy should move toward encouraging larger well-to-do families.

            But if the policy is concerned not only with birthrate, but also with expanding the number of families with children (because children are often a stabilizing influence on families*), then a policy that allows a new mother time to figure out the whole “caring for baby” thing** is a good thing.

            *citation needed

            **A family with 4 kids would need time to recover from birth, but less time to figure out how to care for the new baby, as this isn’t their first rodeo.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              While I don’t think that this is the main goal at the high level, I think that something that cannot be avoided is something like “we want families to create net tax dollar providers (but we’ll settle for a wash)”.

              As for the main goal, I think it’s somewhere in the answer to the question “what use is a baby?”Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                If it was just about population/tax dollars, we could save a lot by just opening up immigration, so there has to be more going on.

                From a high level, concentrating the rearing of children into a small population of people who are well-to-do, stable, and willing has the same potential issues that come with any effort to try and command resources to move to the people who will best use them – primarily that the definition of ‘best’ is very subjective (although there are other pretty significant concerns besides that).

                Allowing a large and diverse population as much opportunity to possible to rear children will obviously have some pretty dramatic failure, but those should be diffuse enough that the benefits gained from the diversity of effort will be realized.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m not looking at “saving”, really.

                I’m more interested in the whole “creating”.

                When it comes to the whole issue of best being subjective, I’m only looking at a very, very boring number here: on average, providing more resources than they use. (If we demand some sort of virtue signalling here, why not look at something like South Carolina vs. Delaware or Mississippi vs. Wyoming when it comes to federal tax dollars. Which states do we wish would emulate which states? Which states would we start freaking out if they started emulating which other states?)Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                OK, if the goal is to create more tax generators, opening up immigration gets us there more effectively, since we will get adults.

                If the goal is to raise up a new generation of American born citizens, and have that generation be raised up in the most cost effective manner, children should be created by the smallest number of families and educated in boarding schools.

                If the goal is to raise up a new generation while maximizing the ability of the current population to create that generation, while maintaining a large diversity of rearing, while keeping people feeling happy/fulfilled/etc.

                So, what, exactly is the goal, spelled out as much as possible?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                A system that doesn’t eventually collapse.

                If that’s not possible, a system that collapses gracefully.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Problem under-defined, can not solve.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I reckon we’ll have to muddle through, then.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Maybe Jaybird’s worry is that the wrong people* will predominantly comprise the group going from four to five kids.


          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            ” from a bird’s eye view, the policies are identical.”

            Only in a total-population sense. If the marginal cost of additional children increases (or the marginal benefit of additional children decreases) as family size increases, then “four to five” is obviously less preferable than “zero to one”.Report

    • Has the pro-life movement ever shown interest in a child after its birth?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        In a sense, that’s unfair. Consider, say, the ACLU: what has it done to educate its clients to get their clients un-addicted to drugs and alcohol? The answer is nothing, or at least nothing directly, because that’s not what the ACLU is about. While the amelioration of addiction is a noble goal that may well be of assistance to a significant number of the ACLU’s clients, the goal of the ACLU is to see to it that its clients’ civil liberties are realized, principally in court. So it does things to make sure that someone arrested for drugs has an attorney, that the attorney is advised of incriminating and exclupatory evidence, that the person has a fair trial, and that if convicted, the person is sentenced without bias and if not convicted, the person is thereafter left alone by police and prosecutors absent evidence of some new and different suspected crime. To be sure, if someone were to steer this client into a rehabilitation facility, the likelihood of that person later having to navigate the legal system at all would be reduced, but that’s not the ACLU’s mission so that’s not where it directs its resources.

        The overt goal of the pro-life movement is the reduction-to-elimination of the number of abortions that occur, premised on the assumption that full humanity vests upon conception, and therefore that the killing of a conceived fetus is the moral equivalent of murdering an autonomous adult. Promoting the welfare of any person, whether born or unborn, is not the goal of that movement. That doesn’t mean that pro-lifers are opposed to policies and activities that improve the welfare of people — quality of life after birth is simply orthagonal to the (perceived as noble) goal of protecting an unborn person’s right to life.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I suspect that is because they have an overarching worldview that prevents such things.

      Lee would tell you that the first victory of the Relugious Right was to get Nixon to veto Ted Kennedy’s universal Pre-K Bill because they believed women belong at home.

      I suspect that the RR still wants men at work and women at home so no parental leave policy is necessary.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The inevitable flaw in a strictly deontological ethics is that your principles will eventually run into each other in the world. So, conservative Christians firmly oppose pre-marital sex, and therefore advocate abstinence only sex ed, and oppose teaching about safe sex and making the tools to have it available, which inevitably leads to more unwanted pregnancies, which inevitably leads to more abortions, which they oppose. Granted, the long-term goal is an abortion-free society via legislation, but until they get there, they actively promote policies that result in more abortions because they can’t compromise on those policies any more than they can on abortion.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          So if I can get all my deontologist friends on board, are you willing to ban all abortions in exchange for extensive sex ed? Because, and I don’t want to over promise here, I think I can make that a win/win for all of us.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Nope, because for me the two things are part of the same principle, and yield the same result: increased reproductive freedom, and therefore increased economic freedom for women.

            Now if you want to make basic economic independence a default for all, I’m willing to sacrifice sex ed on the alter of socialism. 😉Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine says:

              Alas, my deontologist friends will be most disappointed (so close!); however, my Virtue Arete friends are meeting on Thursday and are very much intrigued by the notion that economic freedom for women is an end that produces or is constituent for eudaimonia (given that it isn’t for men, that is).

              {They are post-Aristotelian virtue ethecists, natch} ;- )Report

  17. Avatar Roger says:

    Holly is framing the issue in a way which facilitates persuasion and rhetoric rather than just understanding.

    Let me frame it another intentionally rhetorical way to make the point:

    The country with the highest living standards of any large, diverse nation anywhere on earth, EVER! has determined that the best way to handle maternity leave is to leave it up to the voluntary decisions of employees and employers. Employees can choose companies which offer it, or not, and employers can choose to add it to their benefits or not as they compete for employees. Thus it is odd that all the straggling nations– even those which do so much worse in standards of living — don’t follow our example.

    Before you get your panties in a wad over how I framed the issue, let me clarify that I am intentionally trying to approach the issue in a rhetorical way which is intended to persuade rather than enlighten.

    The point is that there are two approaches to maternity care and other such benefits. Leave it up to competition, or mandate it. There are pros and cons to both.

    One pro is that it eliminates the adverse selection dynamic of individual firms offering it and thus attracting all the soon to be on leave employees. In other words, it can level the playing field to the mutual benefit of all companies. A basic Moloch situation to use the terms of Scott Alexander.

    The cons of mandated leave are the that it can lead to micromanaging and interfering in the freedom of employees and employers. It forces compensation which would otherwise be paid in wages and other benefits into this benefit, which may not be as desirable for employees. It also leads to the need for an accompanying regulatory process to ensure that employers don’t respond by not hiring or such. Where does it end?

    A straight forward way to frame this issue is that there are pros and cons to mandatory benefits of any kind. Feel free to argue for one or the other.Report