To Build Stronger Families, Reframe the Fight Over Mayor Pete’s Parental Leave

Recently the media disclosed that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took two months of parental leave following the adoption of twins. This news led to arguments online about whether he should have during a global supply chain crisis, whether men should, and why the privileged class gets so much time. That misses the more significant opportunity. To defend his absence, the left and Democrats had to loudly declare the importance of parents spending time with their children. They had to advocate for families spending time together and note the importance of parent-child bonds.

Agree with them wholeheartedly on these points. Then challenge them on the very policies they have pushed for years that discourage family formation by extending adolescence, making housing more expensive, and deemphasizing the role of fathers. It is time for conservatives to change the strategy of screaming “Stop” while standing athwart history and say, “No, we’re not doing that. We are doing something completely different.”

Young adults in this country are marrying less and having fewer children. This trend is a feature of a society in decline. Strong families are the building block of a free and prosperous society. You only need to look at the history of any authoritarian regime to know the family is one of the first things they destroy. Mao’s cultural revolution may be the most horrific example when the culture war destroyed the eastern tradition of honoring your elders. Young revolutionaries reported on, beat, and even murdered older relatives.

Our tax and social policies enforce the politically correct view that all family configurations are equally desirable. One could even argue many of them discourage traditional marriage by imposing monetary penalties when fathers remain in the home. This view ignores decades of research that confirms children in intact heterosexual marriages are more successful as a population. It is no surprise the decline in traditional marriage and childbearing accelerated with the passage of legislation purported to wage war on poverty under President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

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It should not be shocking that one of the architects of those programs was Michael Harrington, founder of the Democratic Socialists and a committed Trotskyist. Trotsky envisioned perpetual revolution on a global scale, which cannot occur anywhere solid families and a prosperous middle class with economic mobility exists. Harrington’s view on the disenfranchised in America and how the state should care for them was notably paternalistic. The government as daddy was the goal.

In his book “The Other America,” he asserted millions of Americans lived in a “culture of poverty.” Harrington argued this culture rendered the poor incapable of improving their situation. He believed a capitalist society could not provide the poor with opportunity for a more dignified life, and they must be cared for by the state. To put it in a nutshell, Harrington described a system that could only create a permanent underclass. The best expression of Harrington’s worldview is “The Life of Julia,” an Obama campaign video scrubbed from the internet because most Americans, even in 2012, found it horrifying.

Now, the “Build Back Better” plan includes a raft of policies to discourage strong families. It encourages putting children in government-funded care shortly after a paid parental leave, which is supposed to excite you. It increases the marriage penalty for the Earned Income Tax Credit. It also extends adolescence by paying for 13th and 14th grades. The government-run education of children for 18 years in a pre-K through 12 system produces horrible results, so let’s do two more. Even the PRO Act seeks to reduce the freelance and contract opportunities that allow parents to work from home and spend less on childcare and more time with their children.

In 2013, the left-leaning Brookings Institute noted the decline of the traditional family is a class issue:

A report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia summed up the data well: “Marriage is an emerging dividing line between America’s moderately educated middle and those with college degrees.” The group for whom marriage has largely disappeared now includes not just unskilled blacks but unskilled whites as well. Indeed, for younger women without a college degree, unwed childbearing is the new normal.

An additional trend now is fewer children period. The birth rate hit a new record low for the sixth consecutive year in 2021. It remains below replacement rates. Part of the problem is the financial barriers to successful family formation created by prolonged adolescence, dependence on two incomes, the cost of childcare, and skyrocketing housing costs.

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Rather than increasing the salaries of child care providers and expanding childcare subsidies in the “Build Back Better” boondoggle, conservatives should advocate providing tax credits. These credits need to be a substantial percentage of the last year’s W-2 earnings for one parent to stay home and care for their child until they are six. And substantial means 50%. A structure like this is better for families, including the child care workers who may want to have children of their own.

Think about it. Couples could structure their monthly expenses to live within the means of a more substantial portion of the working parent’s salary. Based on average wages on Indeed, a welder and medical office secretary in Pennsylvania could count on an additional tax credit of $13,936 on top of the standard deduction. They would have no childcare expenses and none of the fuel, food, and other costs associated with commuting to work. The average American couple could save and spend in line with the goal of starting a family.

Employers would benefit from the planning by having months to recruit, train, promote or transition another employee into the vacant position left by the parent staying home. It would also make returning to the workforce for a stay-at-home parent a common occurrence instead of an employment gap that can be difficult to overcome. Women are not returning to the workforce as often post-pandemic. The media assumes they can’t. It would be a good idea to consider they prefer to stay home with their children.

The most important beneficiary of policies that encourage family formation is the children. Brookings also noted:

These differences in family formation are a problem not only for those concerned with “family values” per se, but also for those concerned with upward mobility in a society that values equal opportunity for its children. Because the breakdown of the traditional family is overwhelmingly occurring among working-class Americans of all races, these trends threaten to make the U.S. a much more class-based society over time. The well-educated and upper-middle-class parents who are still forming two-parent families are able to invest time and resources in their children—time and resources that lower- and working-class single mothers, however impressive their efforts to be both good parents and good breadwinners, simply do not have.

If we lose economic mobility for the next generation, we lose the American Dream. I am not sure that is a bargain most Americans are willing to make. So let’s make more families at every income level.

WATCH “The Life of Julia” that some resourceful user put back on the internet. This is where the “Build Back Better” agenda leads:

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