Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are expecting their first child within the next few weeks. The American-born actress-turned-duchess is expected to take six months off for maternity leave.
Even three months of time off to welcome a new baby with no worries about how bills will be paid is a fairytale for most women in the U.S., especially black women like Markle.
Now, conservative lawmakers in Congress are turning those dreams into a reality. They are developing proposals that expand access to paid time off for new moms and dads without expanding the size of government or saddling taxpayers, all workers, and businesses, with new taxes and mandates.
This week Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney, along with Representatives Ann Wagner and Dan Crenshaw, introduced a new paid parental leave bill, the New Parents Act. It follows the CRADLE Act, a proposed bill released two weeks ago by Senators Mike Lee and Joni Ernst. Both bills were modeled after the innovative idea of Social Security Earned Leave (SSEL) designed by the Independent Women’s Forum.
The idea is simple: allow workers early access to their Social Security benefits to fund one, two, or three months off following the birth or adoption of a child. In exchange, moms and dads defer collection of their retirement benefits by a modest number of months.
The plan is completely voluntary. Workers who have access to more generous leave benefits provided by their employer need not use this program.
Social Security Earned Leave is budget neutral. Individual workers who need these benefits pay for them by delaying their own retirement benefits. That’s a tradeoff they can make but are not forced to do so.
Under this plan, there are no new taxes on all workers or employers. Workers who are beyond childbearing age, can’t have children, or don’t want to have children don’t unfairly have to pay for those who do. It also does not raise labor costs for employers, who may in turn reduce current paid leave benefits, cut jobs, or forgo hiring female workers.
By functioning within the existing Social Security program, SSEL would not create a new bureaucracy to manage the program. Nor would it impact Social Security’s solvency in the long run.
Importantly, this plan is targeted to those who need it most. Low-income workers would receive a bigger benefit than higher income workers, since benefits are based on the progressive Social Security formula. This makes sense for everyone. People who are struggling to get by and lack access to employer-based paid leave benefits often end up turning to public assistance during times when they can’t work, like immediately following the birth of a child.
That point is critical for black mothers. Some 17 percent of workers without paid parental leave go on welfare to finance their time off. This number jumps to 48 percent of those with incomes under $30,000.
Black women are prime candidates to face the difficult choice of their job or their health/family — potentially utilizing public assistance to stay afloat.
Black women are concentrated in low-wage, low-skilled jobs and underrepresented in high-paying management, professional, and related occupations. In addition, many work in industries such as retail, food service, and human services which are less likely to offer paid maternity leave than other industries. The median income for households in the black community was just $33,321 in 2012.
Overwhelmingly, black mothers are breadwinners for their families. Over eight out of ten black women earned at least 40 percent of the total household earnings, but most are the sole means of support for their families. Not surprisingly, 64 percent of black children are born to single mothers, the highest rate for all races.
When black women can’t work, it’s economically destabilizing for their families. A Social Security Earned Leave program could help.
Not only does SSEL ensure that female workers stay attached to the workforce (decreasing the use of public assistance, which is good news for taxpayers!), but it offers a way for new mothers to take time off to heal from childbirth as well nurse, care for, and bond with their new baby during those critical first few months of life. Research tells us paid parental leave is good for mom’s health, baby’s health and baby’s future.
Americans know this and overwhelmingly support a national paid leave plan. The question is how to deliver it without creating new problems, like reducing employment or discouraging businesses from offering paid leave benefits on their own.
The private sector is making strides in providing paid parental leave to moms and dads. The current tight jobs market and 2017 tax cuts are spurring the expansion of these benefits to workers at every pay level. No government plan should infringe on that progress.
However, for business which cannot afford to offer paid parental leave to all of their workers, Social Security Earned Leave offers millions of new moms and dads another choice at a cost that is paid entirely by those workers themselves.
With no new taxes, no new mandates on businesses, and no new entitlement, this budget-neutral plan is an idea that we should not pass up.