by Kate Harveston
Roughly 83 years ago, when Republicans in government had their first opportunity to speak on the public record about Social Security — what was then a brand-new social program and the most progressive endeavor of its time — they chose to liken it to dictatorship and slavery.
This is hugely important background information as we look at their plans for paid leave in America. Republicans have never gotten over their irrational hatred of Social Security. But now, under the guise of “reforming” paid leave in the U.S., which elsewhere in the world is considered a human right, they might’ve found their silver bullet to kill Social Security once and for all.
At the heart of the paid leave “debate” in America — a debate many other civilized nations settled a long time ago — are two competing plans. One “Republican” and one “Democratic.”
The Democratic plan, which is sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro, is called the FAMILY Act. The idea is that we would, as a country, establish a “national insurance fund” which would be paid into by employed citizens and their employers. How much? About the price of a cup of drive-thru coffee each week. Families would receive funds from this “coffer” when they gave birth to or adopted a child — or in the event of a serious illness in the family.
Socialism! Oh, the horror!
But from where this writer is standing, this sounds like a nearly ideal marriage of capitalistic and, yes, socialistic ideals. A social safety net powered by the mechanics of insurance, which is as private a “private enterprise” as you’ll find anywhere.
But in Kindergarten we merely called it “sharing.” In this case, sharing a burden and an expense.
When Republicans came to power at every level of government in 2016, they naturally decided not to entertain the FAMILY Act at all — and got to work on a scheme of their own.
We’ve circled back around to Social Security at last. It’s the very foundation upon which the Republican plan for paid leave rests. In this plan, individuals would “borrow” from Social Security as a source of income while they’re on leave from work. This borrowing would replace up to half of the employee’s ordinary income.
Let’s be clear: this is not a “plan to provide paid leave to American workers.” This is, instead, an all-out assault on Social Security itself. Just like everything the Republican Party promises to “overhaul,” this is a cleverly disguised scheme to dismantle it entirely and privatize it for their puppet-masters on Wall Street.
The GOP’s paid leave plan has already been studied and dismissed by several impartial organizations, including the Urban Institute, which declared that it would:
- Delay the disbursement of retirement benefits by 20 to 25 weeks
- Reduce future retirement benefits by three percent for parents of one child
- Reduce future retirement benefits by 10 percent for parents of multiple children.
The Republican plan is the “brainchild” of, among others, Marco Rubio — a man who, apart from his broken-robot routine during the presidential election, has had an almost totally forgettable political career. The plan limits benefits to new parents only, unlike the FAMILY Act, which would have provided a safety net for several major life changes or unexpected family emergencies.
Republicans are going to love this plan, naturally, because it doesn’t impose any day-one costs on employers and wouldn’t require new tax revenue to pay for it.
But it’s going to fundamentally undermine — and one day almost certainly destroy — Social Security as we know it. The Urban Institute can explain the long-term consequences better than we can. Here’s senior fellow and co-author of the abovementioned study, Richard W. Johnson:
“Your taxes are going to pay for your [Social Security] benefit, but also your parental leave benefit, and also retiree benefits for someone else. That creates a burden on the system that’s not trivial.”
“Not trivial” is putting it lightly. This plan puts Social Security in an impossible and completely unsustainable position. If a person dies or becomes disabled before they work long enough to “pay back” this “loan” from their own Social Security safety net, the government is caught holding the bag.
Not to mention: the maze of work requirements, work “credits” and other hoops we already need to jump through to collect Social Security Disability Insurance is already dizzying and convoluted.
A properly-implemented and publicly-funded retirement fund — like the one described in the FAMILY Act — is fundamentally more stable than what the GOP is proposing. It pools contributions made by employees rather than siloing and individualizing them.
The Democratic Party’s FAMILY Act is a good step in the right direction. Naturally, it’s still not enough — not according to the status quo elsewhere in the developed world nor according to the recommendations of doctors. Behavioral pediatricians have long been on the record about how much better off newborns are later in life when they can bond with both parents continuously during the first six months of their lives.
Not six weeks. And not twelve weeks, either. Six full months. The FAMILY Act would provide 12 weeks of “inclusive paid family and medical leave.” Considering how important it is for parents to bond with their children early on, as well as the exponentially rising cost of having a baby in modern-day America, this probably isn’t even enough. However, it’s better than what the U.S. has now, which is:
Nothing. American employers are not required by law to provide even one second of paid leave for their employees.
Those same behavioral pediatricians say the long-term benefits of proper bonding time with newborns and their parents are manifold. They grow up to be more confident and emotionally mature adults. Later on, as adults themselves, they’re better able to form and maintain healthy relationships than those who were separated from their parents earlier in life.
So. Where does this leave us? It leaves us with an increasingly precarious and insolvent Social Security system as well as, potentially, entire generations of emotionally immature children. Somebody tell me again where the upside is — and who the GOP’s actually looking out for here?