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Politics & Policy

Paid-Leave Lobbying Efforts by Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, attends a reception in Cape Town, South Africa, September 24, 2019. (Mark Large/Pool via Reuters)

From Politico:

Democrats are the ones behind the party-line social spending bill that could include paid leave. But none other than Meghan Markle is calling senators in both parties about the topic. Capito got an unexpected call from the duchess….

“I couldn’t figure out how she got my number,” the West Virginia Republican added. Capito wasn’t alone in the GOP: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also got a call from the erstwhile royal…

[senator Collins] added : “much to my surprise, she called me on my private line and she introduced herself as the duchess of Sussex, which Is kind of ironic”

Remember this when you hear Democrats argue that we need to tax capital more or we need a wealth tax to root out undue political influence of wealthy and powerful people.

I would love the duchess to call me (she shouldn’t have a hard time finding my number, since she can find the private number of a U.S. senator). If she calls, I will explain why some of us fervently oppose a federal paid-leave program. The reason isn’t that we don’t understand the benefit of paid leave. It has to do with 1) the unintended consequences of the federal provision on its beneficiaries, and, 2) the inability of government programs to deliver the benefit to those who do not have it currently.

On the first point, I wrote this a while back:

There’s a large body of literature on the negative impact of government-paid leave policies on women’s wages, prospects for advancement, and overall employment. Implementing these policies here would simply mimic a policy that has already backfired elsewhere. Evidence at the international level is damning.

Consider Denmark. Its government offers 52 weeks of paid leave and other generous, family-friendly benefits. But even in paradise, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. A well-cited study shows that while men’s and women’s pay grew at roughly the same rates before they had kids, mothers saw their earnings rapidly reduced by nearly 30% on average; men’s earnings were fine. Women might also become less likely to work, and if still employed, earn lower wages and work fewer hours. Women are also seriously underrepresented in managerial positions.

Some people argue that paid leave is only one side of the equation: In order to get the full benefit of paid leave, the government needs to subsidize childcare, too. This is incorrect. A recent paper looking at 50 years of data from Austria shows that the generous expansion of paid leave benefits, even when coupled with generous childcare benefits, “have had virtually no impact on gender convergence.” In other words, those claiming that the benefits are necessary to close any real or imaginary gender gaps in the workplace should find another way.

On point 2) I am reposting this section from a previous post. It highlights the work of Heritage Foundation scholar Rachel Greszler, where she documents how some government paid-leave programs that have struggled to meet lower-income workers’ and families’ needs, even as they have grown in size and scope:

California. In California, 38 percent of the workforce has wages below $20,000, and yet only 1 percent of those low-wage workers use the state’s paid family leave program. Workers in the highest income bracket (above $84,000) were five times more likely to file paid family leave claims with the state as those in the lowest income bracket (below $12,000). Even in San Francisco, which has its own paid family leave law that provides 100 percent benefits to new mothers, low-income mothers (below $32,000) were only half as likely as higher-income mothers (above $97,000) to receive paid family leave benefits from the government.

Canada. Government paid family leave programs have exacerbated class inequality: “Despite proportionate and obligatory contributions of all employers and employees to these programs, the distribution of benefits is unbalanced and aids the social reproduction of higher-income families, especially outside of Québec.” While Quebec, which operates its own program, has taken action to increase government benefits, they “are still not equally used by mothers with lower socio-economic status.”

Norway. In Norway, which expanded paid leave to 100 percent replacement rates for nearly all mothers, researchers found that “paid maternity leave has negative redistribution properties,” and that “the extra leave benefits amounted to a pure leisure transfer, primarily to middle and upper income families.” The researchers concluded that “the generous extensions to paid leave were costly, had no measurable effect on outcomes and [also had] poor redistribution properties.”

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