April 9 2014

More on the Paltrow Flap

Abby Schachter

New York Postie Mackenzie Dawson’s open letter to Gwyneth Paltrow was an exquisite takedown of a divorced-from-reality Hollywood actress.

Dawson was justifiably snide in her response to Paltrow’s ludicrous assertion that life as an overly compensated mother working on movie sets was tougher than the “challenges” of those working parents with more predictable schedules.

Unfortunately, in a follow-up piece, Dawson made it clear that she sees the solution to the problems faced by ordinary mothers as…more government.

In that follow-up piece Dawson argued that help for working parents should take the form of government-provided universal daycare, a national paid maternity leave law and that Americans work too hard.

As a working mother, I certainly understand the temptation to view universal, government-provided daycare as a welcome solution. But the reality is that state licensed daycare is extremely expensive as it is.

A 2010 report by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) revealed that in 39 states and Washington, D.C., fulltime daycare for an infant cost more than a year's college tuition and fees. The same report showed that the monthly cost of paying for two kids in daycare beats the average monthly rent in all 50 states and “were nearly as high -- and in some cases higher -- than the average monthly mortgage payment.”

What are those parents paying for? In Massachusetts you pay for mandated teeth brushing, even if the child is an infant and doesn’t have teeth. In Pennsylvania you pay for overly burdensome safety regulations requiring daycare workers to throw out all the uneaten food you packed.

A federal program would bring with it subsidies to pay for daycare, just as many states offer subsidies to their local licensed daycares. But the only way the feds could swing that would be by increasing taxes.

Why is it better to pay the federal government to pay you to put your kid in daycare? If you lower the regulatory burden instead (not to mention the expectation that daycare must help prepare kids for school), the costs might come down.

Dawson is correct that the U.S. does not have a national policy on paid parental leave as in other countries. But the current examples of paid maternity leave in countries such as Canada, Sweden and Denmark also come with a much higher tax burden. The six weeks of paid leave offered by some American businesses may not sound like much, but a one-size-fits-all piece of legislation from Washington doesn’t sound like a perfect solution either.

Canadian parental leave can extend as long as a full year after birth, whereas in other countries paid leave is a few months. Here at home, there are already lots of different arrangements individual workers make with their employers. Changing attitudes toward maternity leave business by business will require time and effort, but it is happening. 

Finally Dawson rails against what she regards as being overworked. “The productivity of the American worker has increased 400% since 1950,” she laments. “That might be good news for the company, but certainly not for the individual.” But it has been good for the individual because over that same period wages have gone up and lots of parents have prospered. Also, over the same six decades women entered the workforce en masse. Dawson obviously supports women having jobs outside the home, but who is to say how many hours is too much? Isn’t that something that women can work out for themselves?

“Working American parents feel like they’ve reached a tipping point in their attempts to balance life and work,” Dawson concludes. “They want — need — more support from their elected officials.” Balancing work and family is certainly complicated, but it is also part of being an adult and figuring out your priorities and values and then trying your best to live your life accordingly. Parents don’t need the government to do that, and it would help if our elected officials weren’t a hindrance. 

 

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