Proposals to have the federal government help new parents take paid leave from their employment have generally come with serious disadvantages.
If the government makes companies eat the cost, it might also make them less willing to promote or hire women of child-bearing age. If the government instead makes taxpayers as a whole pay for leave, then it penalizes families that have chosen to have one parent stay out of the paid labor force to take care of children. This seems especially unfair since those families have lower average incomes than two-earner families.
A new proposal on paid leave, however, avoids these pitfalls. It would instead let new parents finance time off from their jobs by slightly delaying the time at which they would collect Social Security benefits. Kristin Shapiro, a lawyer in Washington, explained the idea in a recent paper for the Independent Women’s Forum. She estimates that new parents could finance 12 weeks of leave in return for a six-week delay in taking Social Security checks.
While the Trump administration and Republican senators have expressed interest in the idea, it has already drawn some criticism from the left and the right.
None of their arguments seem compelling.
On the left, the critique is that the plan “would penalize the elderly for their decision to have raised families,” and penalize them even more if they had large families. It wouldn’t. The plan wouldn’t force anyone to participate; it would just give them the option to collect an existing government benefit now or later. Having more children would not lower (or raise) anyone’s total Social Security benefits.
There’s a case that fiscal policy should treat parents better, and I’ve made it. If we want to go down that route, we should do it by providing additional tax relief for parents, which they could use to finance leave from work, or other things. But wanting additional pro-parent policies is not a good reason to object to the Shapiro proposal.