Addressing the work family balance

It's time we create an economic package of reforms to support a range of approaches for work-family balance.

Whatever you think about Sen. Bernie Sanders and business billionaire Donald Trump, it is exciting to see the chorus of viewpoints being offered by more than a dozen presidential candidates (16 on the GOP side alone). The summer of 2015 is hardly going to be a sleeper.

But the hardest issue facing the American family system — in conceptual, emotional, political and economic terms — in the last generation has actually not yet been addressed in any clear way by any of the hopefuls: creating an economic package of reforms that will support a range of approaches for addressing the work-family balance challenge.

There are two main alternatives, and only one of them is getting some attention.

The first approach tries to support working mothers who are overwhelmed with their work and family responsibilities, especially directly after they give birth. A number of Democrats have proposed paid parental leave, including Hillary Clinton and Senator Sanders, and high quality affordable day care. These are old ideas, but they are getting a hearing again.

This approach aims to help parents, mothers especially, get out of the workforce after a baby is born and then get back into it three months after being at home with the baby.

The second approach is not being addressed, and that approach supports the paid leave concept, but argues for tax-credits for stay at home parents. This approach is tailored to those families who have a more traditional concept of child-rearing. It speaks to moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans and more traditional Republicans.

I prefer an approach to family policy that supports both options from a center-left progressive point of view: It says that the federal government must provide economic support for young families, and especially mothers who are treated unfairly today regardless of what they choose or do. This embraces two career and one career models of work-family balance.

Republicans on Capitol Hill will probably not pass paid parental leave between now and when a new president is elected, despite a moderate proposal on the table from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat. Their Family Act would be funded by employer and employee contributions along the lines of Social Security and Medicare.

But if a tax-credit for stay at home parents — say one third of wage replacement — was added to their paid-parental leave bill, maybe this enlarged policy would pass.

Republicans need to recognize that the federal government must provide economic support to young families just the way it provides economic support to older Americans, sick Americans and Americans with disabilities. But Democrats must recognize that federal support must go to families where one of the parents, mom or dad or step-mom or step-dad, chooses, with his or her mate, to stay home for a period after the birth of a baby.

Moreover, LGBT families should have the same rights and opportunities as the more traditional families.

A tax credit for stay at home parents is the kingmaker for contemporary American politics, so long as it is established in conjunction with paid parental leave and affordable high quality day care.

This kind of family policy (and there are scores of arguments for each component) would help us overcome the biggest culture gap in the United States today: the division within the middle-class over work-family balance and the ongoing struggle of America's women to have a choice about how to raise their children, one they can make with their husbands — or their wives.

David M. Anderson is editor of "Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework" (Springer 2014) and an adjunct faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Advanced Governmental Studies in Washington. His email address is dmamaryland@gmail.com.

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