Have Democrats forgotten about paid leave? – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise3rd July 2019
Like many people, we’ve watched with excitement at the growing bipartisan momentum around paid leave reform. Democratic and Republican politicians have put forward federal paid leave plans. The Trump Administration has pressed for paid leave publicly and privately with Members of Congress. And a bipartisan group of scholars from AEI and Brookings (a group we were part of) put forward a compromise proposal on paid parental leave — a guarantee of eight weeks of paid parental leave for all working parents.
Such reform is long overdue. The US is the only major economy that does not guarantee paid leave to new parents and only 17% of workers have paid family leave from their employers. Some workers use vacation or sick days, but 96% of workers in the bottom decile do not have access to paid leave, forcing them back to work within weeks of giving birth. Paid parental leave is associated with better health outcomes for children and mothers, reduced welfare dependency, increased father involvement in childrearing, and increased work and wages for women. If the policy is contained, the cost is a rounding error for the federal budget. Most Americans believe workers should have paid leave, which is saying something in an era where it’s hard to agree on anything.
But you wouldn’t know it looking at the 2020 presidential campaign trail. In four hours of democratic debate, paid leave took up approximately six seconds of airtime, mentioned only in passing by Delaney and Gillibrand. Of the 22 Democrats running for President, only about half have any mention of paid leave visible on their website.
To be sure, many of the candidates have made off-the-cuff comments on paid leave in interviews or Twitter and have records of supporting paid leave legislation, but when it comes to their official campaign websites — where people go to know where the candidate stands, their vision for the future, and their policy proposals — paid leave is buried or absent. Same with their first prime time debates.
Why is this important bipartisan issue missing from so many candidates’ platforms? Biden, the clear front-runner and who boasts a relatively policy heavy website, has no obvious mention of paid leave on his official campaign site, nor was it mentioned in the debates. Nor did Warren, who in spite of her plans for nearly everything else, does not have a single word on her website dedicated to paid leave.
Sanders has a line on paid leave on his website with a poison pill for conservatives attached at the end: “Guarantee all workers paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave and paid vacation,” moving the policy from a vital safety net provision to “the government should provide everything that employers don’t.” Harris has a similar blanket statement: “working to ensure workers have access to paid family and medical leave” without any recommendations for how to accomplish this objective.
Only Gillibrand, Delaney, and Yang offer specific paid leave proposals on their website; and only Gillibrand and Delaney referred to paid leave in the debates. To his credit, Delaney calls for eight weeks of paid family leave, which is the closest to the emerging bipartisan consensus in Washington for a paid family leave policy. Yang calls for 9 months of paid family leave distributed between parents (6 months of paid leave for single parents) and 4 weeks of company-mandated leave apparently for any purpose, a non-starter. Gillibrand is the only one to put forward a comprehensive paid leave plan continuing her leadership on paid leave. Gillibrand’s proposed legislation, the FAMILY Act, would provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers, paid for exclusively by higher payroll taxes (likely much higher than advertised).
The lack of attention to paid leave this presidential cycle is strange. After all, every Congressional Democrat running for president has co-signed the FAMILY Act, yet this is not featured on anyone’s website aside from Gillibrand’s as far as we can tell. As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg advocated for full-time city employees to receive six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, yet paid leave is not on his website. As mayor of New York, De Blasio proposed six weeks of paid family leave for teachers. None of that record is on display. It is as if the presidential campaign is a fresh start, not the culmination of an experience and career.
Even President Trump’s campaign website does not mention paid leave, after calling for it in the State of the Union and his team pressing for reform behind the scenes.
Which says a lot about this presidential cycle. We fear the lack of attention on paid leave reflects a deeper aversion to bipartisan policies in general, leaving achievable change on the table in favor of flash-in-the-pan policies that excite a base but alienate the other half of the country. This bodes poorly when it comes to solving problems and coalition building to get things done. Even Gillibrand has failed to adjust her policy to garner a single Republican supporter due to its costs, crowding out nearly all private sector plans, proposed tax hikes, and potential impacts on hiring. Why not coalesce around a bipartisan plan that can move forward and begin to solve the problem?
As the primary season moves forward, we hope that the Democrat candidates are asked whether or not they would support a bipartisan effort for paid parental leave. First, to supplement public knowledge information on an important public policy missing from their websites. And second, as a bell-weather. Many candidates talk a big game on unity and coming together — but when it comes to bold bipartisan ideas that have a chance of being implemented, there is a strange quiet.
Aparna Mathur and Abby McCloskey are members of the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Leave, which Aparna Mathur co-directs.