Katie Bethell: Donald Trump's plan focuses solely on maternity leave, ignoring dads
Despite shortcomings, proposal has brought GOP to table on paid family leave, she says
Editor’s Note: Katie Bethell is the executive director of PL+US, a national organization advocating for paid family and medical leave for everyone in the United States The views expressed are her own.
Donald Trump’s announcement of a paid maternity leave policy this week–and Ivanka Trump’s refusal to go into details in an interview with Cosmopolitan yesterday – brought the issue into the national political spotlight. It also marks the first time a Republican presidential nominee has addressed the growing public demand for paid family leave policy–even as Trump’s proposal is drawing tough and important questions about what American families really need.
Clearly, Trump’s team read the polls showing that 76% of Americans – Republicans and Democrats – want action for paid family leave. His proposal, for six weeks of maternity leave, is an intriguing entrant to the debate about how to help ensure that everyone can be there when the people they love need them most. But the Republican presidential candidate’s proposal is behind the times, leaves people out and ultimately fails to provide the relief that American families desperately need.
First, the plan focuses solely on maternity leave, leaving dads and partners of all kinds completely out of the conversation. In today’s America, men take care of new babies, too. Parental leave is not just about recovery from childbirth, it’s about bonding with and caring for a new baby, and studies have shown that fathers who spend more time with their newborn continue to play a stronger caretaking role throughout that baby’s life.
So it is startling to see a nominee’s public policy proposal that is so blatantly sexist–and remarkable to see Ivanka Trump dodge questions about why fathers were left out. Parental leave policy that focuses only on moms is bad for children, for dads and for women.
While popular imagination may still talk about the “two-parent household,” the reality is that families look a lot different now. Trump’s “moms only” proposal fails for families with two dads or one single dad – the number of single father households in the United States has increased about ninefold since 1960, from less than 300,000 to more than 2.6 million in 2011.
Plus, Trump’s proposal doesn’t address families where a man is the one who plans to stay home with a new baby, even though today, 40% of working women are the breadwinners for their households. Meanwhile, two out of three dads say they want to have an equal role in raising their children. Clearly, a policy that leaves fathers out makes it much harder for men to achieve equality in parenting.
The Trump campaign’s proposal also reflects a profound misunderstanding of just how much time new parents and babies really want and need together. Anyone who has spent time with a newborn knows that six weeks of parental leave is not nearly enough – a 6-week-old baby can barely lift his or her own head. And the public knows this: A nonpartisan poll from Brigham Young University and the Deseret News in Salt Lake City showed that Americans think employers should be required to offer at least four months of paid leave to new parents – moms and dads.
Trump’s proposal also represents a huge step backward from current business and policy trends. In business, the most modern and future-thinking companies in the country are in an arms race to offer the best parental leave policies, many of which are offering 16 weeks or more.
Still, while the growing discussion of paid parental leave is welcome, it is also essential to remember that paid family leave covers so much more than new parents. All of us can expect to have critical moments when we will need to be there to care for a family member – whether that means welcoming a baby, caring for a spouse or parent with a serious illness such as cancer, or helping an aging parent.
The state-run family leave program that’s been operating in California for more than a decade, and similar programs in other states, already include leave for other necessary caregiving (and for caregivers who aren’t women). This is the framework of the currently proposed FAMILY Act, and of Hillary Clinton’s paid family leave proposal.
Companies interested in attracting a modern, highly trained and loyal workforce are offering a more full version of paid family leave as well: Deloitte made headlines this past week by announcing a new policy of 16 weeks of fully paid family leave for a broad range of life events affecting families.
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Trump’s family policy doesn’t just leave out new dads, it leaves out all of us who know we would need to be there when our family needs us most, whether it’s for a baby’s first breaths or a parent’s last days.
Still, for all of its shortcomings, perhaps what’s most exciting about Trump’s proposal is the signal that Republicans may now be willing to wrestle with this problem with real proposals that can be debated and discussed in the public sphere. When the left and the right engage in a genuine conversation about an issue – when they really connect to try to solve problems for American families – the potential for innovation is enormous.
It’s time for a meaningful debate on paid family leave, and our leaders in Washington are now in the spotlight to solve it. Trump has brought Republicans to the table – now let’s get to work.