It seems our society has long passed the point where politics can be kept in its separate sphere. Everything from schools, to sports, to movies and television, to science to even Miss USA Pageants have become politicized. Still, it was unfortunate to see President Trump do the same with Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day should be just that—a celebration of how vital mothers are to our lives. Using it to promote public policy cheapens it.
Alas, last Sunday Trump released a statement that said, in part, that he was “committed to working with Congress to help mothers—and fathers—have paid family leave so that childcare is accessible and affordable.”
Lots of conservative and libertarian commentators would have had their hackles up if, say, Senator Fauxcahontas, had said, “On this Mother’s Day, let’s redouble our efforts to provide affordable child care for single moms.” Yet Trump largely got a pass.
Politicizing Mother’s Day isn’t the only reason Trump should be criticized. Using the federal government to force employers to provide paid family leave is a terrible idea.
For starters, ample research shows that employers respond to government mandates by offsetting worker pay by an amount comparable to the mandated benefit. A study on Europe’s paid family leave programs found that “there is some evidence that women pay for entitlements to extended leave by receiving lower relative wages.” There is also research showing the benefits of paid family leave, but it focuses largely on the recipients of the benefit—new mothers—rather than the impact on the job market as a whole.
In addition, the benefits of paid family leave are more likely to go to affluent women than the poor. In short, government-mandated paid family leave will put downward pressure on the wages of all women employees, including ones who are past child-bearing years or have no intention of having children. Women who are at the bottom end of the pay scale can least afford the decline in wages, and it is unfair for government to drive down their wages to provide a benefit to largely affluent women.
James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation proposes other ways of helping working pregnant women such as sick-leave savings accounts. Another possibility is letting women tap into their unemployment benefits to pay for such leave, since those benefits are already mandated.
There are a number of ways Trump can promote paid family leave without another government mandate. And he should do it on an occasion other than Mother’s Day.