The Rubio-Trump Plan Clearly Penalizes Parents


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Alexandra DeSanctis wrote in the National Review about the Rubio-Trump plan to allow parents to receive paid leave in exchange for delaying their Social Security old-age pension. DeSanctis claims that the plan does not impose a penalty on families who have children, but her argument for that doesn’t really work.

Here’s DeSanctis:

It’s one thing for [Elizabeth] Bruenig to argue that the federal government must do more to encourage family growth and stability, by which she seems to mean taking funds from general taxation and providing much more aid to families than we do now. In her view, an adequate plan would likely provide couples money at the time of a child’s birth, immediately upon reaching retirement age, and at other points in between. But, given her aims, there’s no conceivable way for Bruenig to argue that the Rubio–Ivanka proposal is worse than the status quo. It may not be enough to please Bruenig, but the proposal would indeed provide benefits to couples who need assistance to take time off work after childbirth. Again, delaying retirement benefits to offset the cost isn’t “punishment” — it’s a freely chosen shifting of the exact same benefits to the time when a couple decides they need it most. For the supporter of paid family leave, there is no denying that this proposal would be an improvement.

The argument here is that the plan cannot be said to impose a punishment on parents because all it really does is shift around the punishment we already impose on parents. Put simply, the Rubio-Trump plan replaces the lost-earnings penalty that our current system imposes on parents with a lost-pensions penalty. So, it eliminates (reduces) an old penalty while imposing a new one.

DeSanctis insists that because these two penalties are equal in magnitude, there is no punishment involved, but that’s a bizarre rhetorical dodge. If normally I punch you, but then decide going forward that I am going to kick you instead, would a normal person say that my new kicking policy does not constitute an attack on you? I don’t think so.

To be crystal clear about what’s going on here, consider the following table, which contains our current system, the Rubio-Trump system, and then the Bruenig no-penalty system.

Comparison of Paid Leave Plans
Penalty 0 Kids 1 Kid 2 Kids 3 Kids
Current Lost Earnings 0 Weeks 12 Weeks 24 Weeks 36 Weeks
Lost Pension 0 Weeks 0 Weeks 0 Weeks 0 Weeks
Rubio-Trump Lost Earnings 0 Weeks 5.4 Weeks 10.8 Weeks 16.2 Weeks
Lost Pension 0 Weeks 6 Weeks 12 Weeks 18 Weeks
Bruenig Lost Earnings 0 Weeks 0 Weeks 0 Weeks 0 Weeks
Lost Pension 0 Weeks 0 Weeks 0 Weeks 0 Weeks

As you can see, the current system penalizes parents by taking 12 weeks of earnings from them for every child they have. The Rubio-Trump system introduces a 12-week paid leave benefit that pays 45 percent of the parent’s lost earnings but also requires the parent to forego 6 weeks of pension benefits. So, Rubio-Trump now penalizes parents by taking 5.4 weeks of earnings and 6 weeks of pension from them for every child they have. The Bruenig system provides 100% income replacement for paid leave (subject to a high cap perhaps) and does not require anyone to delay their pension.

Of course, the table above really understates things. The USDA pegs the average cost of raising a child at $233,610. This means that the three-child family would drop $700,000 raising the next generation that actually pays the pensions of everyone in the country. If the 0-child family puts the money they save from not having children into a retirement fund, they could easily retire a decade or more earlier than the three-child family. And what does the three-child family get for spending that much money to raise the kids that pay the pensions for the 0-child families? They get to lose 16.2 weeks of earnings and 18 weeks of their Social Security old-age pension. What a system!

As I said back on February 1, this proposal is clearly ridiculous, punitive, and unfair. But there is nonetheless a plausible reason why it might be worth cynically supporting. The plan grants a new paid leave benefit in exchange for pension cuts that won’t materialize for at least 25 years. If the Democrats aren’t complete trash, they should be able to control government at some point during those 25 years and just cancel the pension cuts before they ever happen.