May 9 2011
How NOT to Help Working Mothers
In "honor" of Mother's Day, the Progressive States Network - the liberal counterpart to the State Policy Network - released a "humorous" video about the many ways society and the workplace is hostile toward women. The premise: if you care about working moms, you should fight for legislation to help protect them.
Some of the (predictable) big-ticket policies they grab onto include Paid Sick Days, Paid Family Leave, Healthcare Reform, Fair Pay, and Affordable, Quality Childcare and Pre-K.
As a mother of two (and a half) young children, I'm intimately familiar with the challenges of trying to balance a career and a family. That's why I know that each and every one of the reforms the PSN is advancing would actually hurt women (and men) rather than help them. For the sake of space - and because there are endless discussions of each of these topics on our website -- let me respond to just a couple of the charges:
Paid Family Leave: While everyone understands that employees sometimes need to take time off of work to care for a sick child or aging parent; government-mandated family and medical leave isn't all it's cracked up to be. The fact is companies - big and small - do not have unlimited resources and "benefits" like FMLA don't come without a cost. More than 80 percent of American workers receive paid leave in some form. But when businesses are forced to provide paid leave, they balance out the costs with lower salaries and by cutting other benefits, like health insurance. What's more laws like FMLA unfairly benefit some employees at the expense of other employees. So single employees and married employees without children lose out when government requires employers to provide additional compensation to employees with families.
What's more, FMLA is most likely to hurt women in the long term. Women are more likely than men to use FMLA, making the cost of hiring women more expensive. The more regulations imposed on businesses with the intent of protecting women in the workplace, actually makes it less likely that a company will want to hire a woman.
Fair Pay: I recognize that there are bad employers out there who might still discriminate against women; but discrimination is not a significant reason why women, on average, earn less than men. When we look at women from a macro perspective, they are outperforming men across the board in terms of college-graduation rates, advanced degrees, purchasing power, and even in some areas, in earnings. (Read what Carrie wrote in the WSJ here.) In the end, differences in pay between men and women come down to choices. The fact is, the choices women - and men - make have costs. Still these costs are the results of free choice - not deeply institutionalized discrimination and injustice.
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What's most upsetting about the PSN's ad campaign is that it works under the assumption that society and the workplace are openly antagonistic toward women. Certainly working mothers are forced to balance a great deal; but more government intervention is not the answer. If we really want to make things easier on women, we should stop thinking only about bad employers and start thinking about what added regulations mean for good employers. Freeing up business so that employers and employees can enter into contracts that suit the needs of both parties, will ultimately allow for the greatest flexibility and truly make the workplace better for women - and men.