In this profoundly screwed-up country, millennials, drowning in debt, are having babies later in life — if they have kids at all — because they can’t afford homes to raise them in or the necessary child care. At least they can look forward to retirement so they can finally spend time with family, right? Nope. Seniors are working well past retirement age because they’re short on cash — they simply can’t afford to stop. So the idea of a new parent bleeding their own retirement benefits to get a couple of months of “paid” family leave sounds cruel and counterintuitive: Why would you steal from a benefit you’ll rely on? Who’d want to go forth and multiply if it means you can’t retire?
And yet, that’s exactly what the GOP proposed in a “paid” family leave plan that has us screwing ourselves out of Social Security benefits in exchange for covered time off. It’s paid, all right — by you. If you want to have kids and actually hang out with them while they’re young, you’ll just have to work longer later on (and not see them when you’re old). Cool deal.
Called the CRADLE Act, it stands for Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment, and was introduced by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Utah) and Mike Lee (R-Iowa). If it sounds familiar, that’s because Marco Rubio (R-Florida) unveiled a similar concept last year called the Economic Security for New Parents Act, which also proposed that new parents could withdraw their Social Security benefits early to get a little leave today.
CRADLE is catchier than the nearly unpronounceable ESNPA, but cradle does not exactly inspire empowerment. Rather, it calls to mind cradle to the grave (you’re on the hook for the whole life cycle, buddy), cradle cap (those weird crusty scales that form on an infant’s head) and the cradle, that circus move where one person hangs from that big rectangle and swings and hopes like hell the other person catches on. It’s also reminiscent of the ’70s folk song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which is a song of lament about a father who never gets around to hanging out with his kid. All these things are bad, folks. And so is the proposal.
Here’s how it would work: New parents can get up to three months of paid leave when they have a child or adopt a child. In return, they’ll effectively delay the start of their Social Security benefits by two, four or six months. If you’ll join me in some basic math, you’ll notice right away that for each one month you take now, you’ll have to delay the benefits by double later.
Hope you’ve got enough dough in there!
It also doesn’t cover any other kind of family or medical leave, like illness or ailing parents, children or relatives.
“I think most people would look at this as an opportunity that they might not otherwise have, an opportunity to benefit from payments that they’ve been making already for years,” Lee told CBS.
That is true, if the other option is having your face melted off.
When CBS asked the duo why the U.S. is so far behind other countries on the issue of offering paid leave, they didn’t point at themselves with their thumbs to indicate that the fault is people like them and their fake paid-leave proposals.
Instead, Ernst doubled down and pretended to act like she’s part of the solution.
“I think that is a really great question and that’s why we have decided now is the time to step up and really do something about this,” she said, without bursting into flames. “We think it’s time to catch up with other countries.”
But other countries don’t make their citizens pick between hanging out with a newborn baby or getting to retire after a lifetime of grueling work in order to spend a few months with their children, and they don’t make them pay later for the program at the expense of their own retirement. The top 10 countries with the most generous leave are in Europe, and they fund those programs, which can offer a year or more in some cases of sometimes fully paid leave to new mothers, with workers and employers paying in via taxes.
In response to the GOP proposal for paying for our hamburgers on Tuesday that we eat today, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said the CRADLE plan isn’t realistic. She would know, since she’s promoting a Family Leave Act that gives parents 12 weeks of paid leave for all workers without exception. One major difference between CRADLE and the Family Act is that the Family Act costs two cents per every $10 in wages, or under $2 a week, and doesn’t require sacrificing retirement. Other big differences: The Family Act covers not just new parents but also family and medical leave. The CRADLE Act covers only new parents.
While much is being made of the numerous plans for paid leave finally being offered up by both sides of the aisle, the truth is, none of them really covers the necessary, scientifically backed amount of time together for parents and children to thrive. That would actually be six months of leave minimum for parents to bond with their children, for mothers to heal and recover from childbirth and establish breastfeeding if possible, and to promote any number of other benefits that include recovering from postpartum depression, helping a child develop a healthier immune system and avoid fewer future sick days, and just the general well-being of everyone involved in making a family go.
And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the job uncertainty pregnant workers face, or the discrimination new, working mothers face (addressed somewhat by the introduced Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which hasn’t been passed). It also doesn’t address the high cost of daycare, which often renders one parent’s paycheck moot, or its lack of availability due to cost and when childcare centers typically operate, which leaves second and third shift parents in the lurch. That issue also has a number of proposals on the table, including an ambitious plan from Elizabeth Warren to fund universal childcare, and a typical one from Trump to leave it to states to claim funding. Trump’s plan also makes it easier to open a childcare center so more entrepreneurs can step up to the plate and also fund economic growth (and their personal wealth). This is exactly the sort of nightmare scenario parents fear when looking for a place to leave their newborn eight hours a day: looser regulations.
Currently, only about 14 percent of workers have any kind of paid leave at all based on the state they live in, outside of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which only gives workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and doesn’t apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees. Most people take very little leave if at all, returning to work after about two weeks. In my case, I managed to score a few months off with my daughter by cobbling together vacation days, some unpaid family leave time and a short-term disability program that reimbursed about 70 percent of my pay. I had to opt into it before I got pregnant, or it would have been useless. (Thank god I did!)
So it’s no surprise that as a result of our stingy policies, the U.S. birth rate has dropped to a 30-year low, in part due to how deeply unaffordable it is to have a child.
So what we’ve got in the GOP’s plan is not just a fuck-you to working families, it’s active discouragement from breeding. It forces mothers like me to choose between children and retirement. Their shit-eating figureheads will argue that, of course, something is better than nothing — but here, that something is a devil’s bargain whose cost is far too high. Trading retirement to ensure your child’s growth should not be an option on any table in this discussion, unless of course we’re all planning on dying before we hit retirement age anyway. If things keep going the way Trump and his cohorts would like, that’s the most likely outcome anyway.