Even reliably liberal cheerleaders like the Daily Beast’s Eleanor Clift seemed to yawn a bit before dutifully praising the Democrats’ newly released “Economic Agenda for Women and Families.” Even characterizing it as “new” is a stretch. The agenda contains some of the Left’s most familiar hits for appealing to women: Calls for expanded government childcare programs, more government mandates for paid leave time, and more grounds for lawsuits against employers to root out the so-called wage gap.
Yet Americans ought to reconsider this agenda in the context of what we know now about our economy and government. The fact that Congressional Democrats continue to push in the same direction toward bigger, more intrusive, more expensive government reveals that, regardless of the facts on the ground, expanding the state will always be the Left’s top priority.
For example, right now, millions of young Americans are lounging around their mothers’ couches and kitchens, rather than working summer jobs. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds is more than 16 percent, double the rate for the rest of the population. While it may be tempting to dismiss the plight of the seventeen-year-old unable to find positions scooping ice cream, these first employment opportunities are building blocks for the future, teaching the importance of showing up on time, working hard, and having good manners. They are a needed first line on a resume, and of course, offer pay that can be crucial to some families.
Yet the Democrats’ women’s agenda includes an increase in the minimum wage, which is a surefire way to exacerbate the youth unemployment problem. Some policy wonks try to dismiss the idea that there is a relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment, but most Americans will recognize a relationship that seems as iron-clad as the law of gravity. When something becomes more expensive, people can afford less of it. That holds true for employers as well as consumers. Increasing the minimum wage makes hiring a worker more expensive, which means that employers are going to hire fewer of them. Candidates with the fewest skills—typically the youngest and least educated—will have the hardest time finding work.
Democrats push other policies that will make hiring workers more expensive, such as paid leave benefit mandates. Of course, everyone sympathizes with the need for workers to be able to take time off from their work to attend to health issues. But forcing the minority of businesses that currently don’t offer paid leave to do so will likely hurt those workers that the policy is supposed to help. Employers facing higher employment costs due to these mandates will make up for those costs by consolidating jobs, reducing take-home pay, or outsourcing. That’s not a far-fetched theoretical outcome: It is exactly how companies are reacting to the expected new costs associated with ObamaCare mandates.
If one only read this agenda, one might think that we are at a time of full-employment, and that the primary concern of Americans is to get a little more from their employers. Yet sadly, we are in an era of stubborn, serious unemployment, with one out of eight Americans out-of-work or under-employed. The official unemployment rate ticked down last week, but only because more and more Americans are leaving the workforce entirely due to a lack of jobs. Given this reality, government ought to be seeking ways to make it easier and less expensive for companies to hire and retain workers, yet everything in this proposal pushes in the other direction.
Democrats’ calls for more funding for early education programs and greater government-provided daycare also ignore what we know about the efficacy—and lack thereof—of existing government programs. After all, the federal government already runs an early education program, Head Start, which studies show provides no lasting benefits to participants. Why should American women have any confidence that more government-spending on child care programs will benefit their children if the current ones don’t work?
The push for expanding government programs also ignores the very real problem that our federal government is spending trillions of dollars that we don’t have, and piling up a mountain of debt that threatens to further hamper our economic future.
Women care about these big economic issues. They want a growing economy that offers diverse job opportunities for themselves and their families. They don’t want to leave their children with an unworkable system of government spending programs that bury them in taxes and interest payments, and drain the economy of opportunity.
That’s what’s missing from this agenda for women, which continues to pigeonhole women as if we are a small interest group that needs to be praised and appeased with special projects and government subsidies. Women should ask themselves: Do they think that government’s growing dominance of every aspect of American life is really the best course for our economy? If so, this is the agenda for them. If not, it’s time for a different approach and to reassess their political allegiances.
Carrie Lukas is managing director at Independent Women's Forum and co-author of Liberty is No War on Women.