“Inclusive and equitable economic growth” is how the Joe Biden administration envisions its recovery plan following massive job losses from the 2020 lockdowns. Taxpayers will have to pony up $1.8 trillion for childcare, paid and medical leave, as well as universal pre-K.
To Biden, the fact that a growing number of mothers are choosing to stay home to take care of their families is holding the country back. To get women to participate more actively in the economy, the administration wants to spend $225 billion on paid family leave. In addition, the administration wants to partner with states to provide free universal pre-K to working families, a program that comes with an estimated $200 billion price tag.
But what would a compulsory, across-the-board family leave policy coupled with public pre-K such as this do for the economy? Would it have the desired effect, helping to boost families’ overall incomes, or would it hurt the job prospects of countless Americans, lowering wages and forcing employers to hire fewer workers?
A Damning Plan
Offering up to $4,000 per month, Biden’s American Families Plan would guarantee twelve weeks of paid parental, family, or personal illness leave to each eligible worker. With this policy, the administration hopes to put 1 million parents, primarily mothers, back to work.
The White House suggested that even low-wage and part-time workers, most of whom are women, should be offered paid leave. It also mentioned studies that show that paid family leave helps to retain female workers. However, once the babies grow to be toddlers, bonding time is no longer part of the deal.
In Biden’s America, all childbearing women must promptly send their tikes to public school as soon as they are too old for subsidized daycare, allowing their very busy moms to continue working their low-wage jobs.
Currently, the Biden administration is singling out mothers who work part-time or low-wage jobs, using them as an example of why the government must intervene. Ignoring the fact that mothers often choose to work part-time precisely so they may have more time with their children, Biden wants to give them enough incentives to focus on their jobs instead.
As explained by Walter Block and the late Walter Williams in a study criticizing the wage gap, when men and women get married, men typically take on the lion’s share of making money while the woman takes on the lion’s share of raising the children. Prior to the pandemic, working mothers were relying less on the services provided by child daycares, as demonstrated by the decreasing number of family childcare providers in the country. Naturally, they were also more likely to choose jobs that offer more flexibility in work hours and location, as demonstrated by Harvard University’s Claudia Goldin.
Due to the lockdowns impacting in-person learning, however, services that had already been available to the decreasing number of women who chose to use them were forcefully shut down. Within a short period of time, those women had to drop their jobs to care for their children.
They didn’t stop using childcare over a personal decision alone. Government made the decision for them, making services that had been available suddenly unavailable. While many women were already taking on the work of childcare on their own, a greater number of women ended up following along.
If Biden were truly concerned with giving women their freedom to choose once again, he would be better off calling for the end of lockdowns altogether instead of subsidizing services that aren’t needed.
Paid Leave Is Never Free
As if subsidizing childcare weren’t bad enough, the Biden administration is hoping to tax the wealthy to pay for universal paid leave. Even if higher earners can afford such taxes, Biden is fundamentally ignoring that the actual costs of mandated paid leave do not fall squarely on the shoulders of those who are directly paying workers to stay home.
By forcing businesses to accommodate employees’ nearly three months off, the administration is imposing an additional tax on employers, who have to provide training and boost their manpower to ensure the work gets done.
Over time, employers will think twice before hiring married men and women, who will be more likely to go on paid leave, thus effectively diminishing the opportunities available for heads of households across America.
To small businesses that simply cannot afford a large payroll, mandated paid leave, even if entirely funded by the government, will translate into fewer new hires and slower business growth. If this is what Biden sees as keeping the country competitive in female labor force participation, then he is widely mistaken.
Universal Pre-K: Hurting Children, Hurting Families
Only a bureaucrat would assume that putting a small child in public school is just as effective as keeping the child at home with a parent. Unfortunately for Biden, truth isn’t on his side.
According to a 2014 study that looked into the educational performance of sixty-eight thousand children, the benefits of having a parent at home go well beyond the child’s early years.
Researchers found that children with a parent at home had increased school performance and that edge was noticeable through high school.
Another study found that children who are homeschooled score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized tests and end up achieving above-average ACT and SAT test scores as well.
With the droves of parents choosing to continue with homeschooling following the lockdowns, many parents might not see the value in what Biden’s American Families Plan has to offer. So why is he pushing this bill anyway?
As Ludwig von Mises demonstrated, the compromise between capitalism and socialism leads to the growth of welfarism, which allows the state to play the role of society’s caretaker. While we cannot turn the clock back, we can at least try to keep the state from implementing new ways to put the dependency function that belongs to the family into the hands of bureaucrats.
Keeping the state from exerting even more influence on the young and their mothers is a good place to start.