In the debate initiated by Senator Mitt Romney’s family plan, a saying constantly comes to mind: “Every baby comes with a loaf of bread under their arm.” I have always interpreted it as an affirmation of the dignity of the need and the need to provide: the baby brings hunger, and then it is the job of everyone within earshot to come with the bread.
The child benefit program proposed by Mr. Romney is a step in the right direction and is as unconditional as the needs of the baby. It would include monthly payments to families of up to $ 350 per child; moreover, it would be universal. This has made him a target of some Conservatives, who prefer a narrower approach with tax breaks. There is dignity in work, but we must support more than just paid work.
For critics like Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, the universality of the program is a downside. Both senators oppose the proposal because it would be a dependent child allowance for all parents, “not a tax break for working parents,” as they put it in a communicated.
Senators called Romney’s proposal âwelfareâ and added, âAn essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work. Congress should expand the child tax credit without compromising the responsibility of parents to work to support their families. “
But senators are only pro-work in a narrow sense, and in that sense they are short-selling families. There is no intrinsic value in working outside the home that elevates it to a higher dignity than the work of parents or other caregivers within the home. If only paid work is considered ârealâ work, then a father who stays at home with his young children does not count towards supporting his family.
To turn care into “real” work, he has to do a sleight of hand. If the father swaps children with a neighbor, and each family pays the other to care for their children, then the same diaper changes, food preparation, and storybook reading become official work. It’s hard to call this pro-family policy of shell play, in which child care is only valuable if you don’t provide it to your own child.
Mr. Romney’s plan (like the Family Fun Pack of Matt Bruenig, chairman of the People’s Policy Project, a think tank) would allow families to be flexible. (President Biden also released a plan for a similar benefit, which would be less generous for families with young children and would be limited to a single year of payments as part of Covid-19 relief.) Mr. Romney and Mr. Bruenig would put money directly and unconditionally into the hands of families. They wouldn’t issue childcare vouchers or dictate one single ârightâ way to balance work and parenthood.
In contrast, Mr. Lee and Mr. Rubio’s position is not pro-family; it is pro-employer. Their goal seems to be to adapt parents to the needs of increasingly total work, rather than to expect jobs to meet the needs of families. This is the same attitude behind Kamala Harris’ proposal when she was a senator, to close the gap between the end of school days and working days. She proposed extending the school day by three hours, rather than shortening the work day. When children and work come into conflict, work usually wins.
It’s almost as if some critics of the Romney Plan are asking: How do we get around the demands that children place on their parents? It is a superficial freedom that treats parents equally only if they are equivalent to job applicants without children.
But parents are generally worse employees from the point of view of their employer. Which employer prefers someone who could be chronically sleep deprived for months? All else being equal, who would pick the person whose children spend the winter fighting their way through all the stomach problems in school? Pregnancy is a protected category in labor law, as is disability, because an employer who views their employees simply as raw material will treat anyone facing physical challenges as unnecessary.
For employers who view employees as short-term positions, the ideal worker is a person without dependents. No children, no parents old enough to need care, no strong commitment to someone outside of themselves and their job.
That’s why tech companies offer to pay for egg freezing services and offer perks to make your office feel right at home. They can really feel like they’re offering an edge – and their carrots are nicer than the sticks of no sick leave and unpredictable schedules offered by shiftwork employers. But at the high and low ends of the pay scale, anyone else who depends on a worker is seen as competing for hiring.
A pro-family policy uses the needs of parents as a test for a humane economy. A workplace hostile to parents will also hurt the person whose father slides into dementia, the coworker who needs time off to help a friend struggling with depression, the coworker whose coronavirus infection becomes infected with dementia. long-term chronic illness.
No one stays healthy or independent forever. When we love our children, our parents, our friends, we become entangled with them and make promises that cost us something to keep.
Mr. Romney’s benefits would be suitable for parents, but they would serve everyone if they changed our expectations of what work should look like and what counts as valuable work. And his proposal should be followed by a similar flat rate for anyone doing home care work for a parent or other loved one.
Call the Romney plan a capital investment, not a child allowance. It supports work that statistics like gross domestic product don’t matter, but it is the foundation of strong families and communities.
Leah Libresco Sargeant is the author of “Arriving at Amen” and “Building the Benedict Option”. She writes about the dignity of addiction in Other Feminisms.