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What Do Americans Think About Paid Family Leave? (Re-air)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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July 26, 2021 12:07 pm

What Do Americans Think About Paid Family Leave? (Re-air)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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July 26, 2021 12:07 pm

This week on Family Policy Matters, we’re bringing you a re-air of a show from February 2020 with Henry Olsen, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Olsen discusses a survey of American voters on paid family leave, and shares the surprising findings that support for paid family leave spans the partisan divide and is highly important to key voter groups.

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Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, President of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program. It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged, and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation. And now, here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracy Devitt Griggs. Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters, Paid Family Leave. It's a concept we're hearing more of these days.

Americans are looking for ways to balance family and professional life, especially with new babies or family medical conditions that require care. Well, Henry Olson joins us today to discuss this issue. He is Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a Washington Post columnist. He recently unveiled the findings of a new survey of American voters on paid family leave. Henry Olson, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

Thanks for having me on. First of all, what prompted you to drill down on this issue? Why is it a topic you feel is important and needed more study? Well, it's something that is increasingly becoming an important public policy proposal by both President Trump and by Democrats. And it's something that hasn't been terribly studied a lot by major pollsters, so there was a gap to fill. Great. Well, the Ethics and Public Policy Center commissioned a study to learn more about American voters' opinions on paid family leave policies.

So what did you find? Well, what we found generally is that Americans would like to have paid family leave. They would prefer it be offered by an employer than by the government, but they definitely would like to be able to have the ability to take time off either to care for a sick relative or to more commonly care for a newborn. And they don't want huge amounts of time. There are some European countries that offer six months or a year.

Basically, they settle around the three-month period is something that they would like, somewhere around 12 weeks that they could take up to without having to lose either their job or get a significant cut in salary. And you found that this crossed political lines as well, right? That's right. Republicans and Democrats and independents all support this idea. One of the surprising aspects of this is that even when you mention the government as being the sponsor or the provider of the paid family leave, you get lots of Republicans. In fact, the majority of Republicans who support it, only a minority, would oppose that. Where Republicans might differ from Democrats is that they would prefer that the net cost to the government be nil. But even there, you'd have substantial numbers of Republicans who would be completely fine with an increase in government expenditures if this benefit were provided.

Right. So in general, who do most people think should pay for this? Well, in general, most people, they would prefer that the employer would pay rather than that it come from the government exclusively. They would also prefer that there not be raised taxes for this.

And of course, that circumscribes things. If an employer were to pay for it, it would have to come from somewhere. Somebody is going to have to get less so that the people who get paid family leave get more.

And that's not something we asked about. And with respect to the government, there are different ways that you could try and make it a net neutral impact on the federal budget. But that, again, comes with winners and losers. And there's not a clear majority in favor of any option.

What other significant things did you find in your survey? Well, one of the things that's particularly interesting is how important this is to some key voter groups that Hispanics are particularly favorable to it. Independent women are kind of off the charts in favor of it. And both parties are trying to find a way to court the nonpartisan swing voter woman. And this seems to be one policy that would be an important one to have in their arsenal as they try and do that. Is it significant that we seem to be in general agreement on this issue? I mean, we can't seem to agree on much these days. Well, it is significant that there is support across the partisan boundary for this because there typically is a thought that the mass of Republican voters are opposed to any sort of interference in the economy.

Whether it's something that a private employer does or more especially when the government doesn't. We find that that's not true. So it shows, I think, that there are some common values. Of course, the devil becomes in the details. And the more there is a specific proposal, the more discord there might be. But again, even there, there was large agreement across large segments of the parties that this is something that's worth doing even if it might cost a little more money.

Okay, so you talk about the devils in the details. What are some of the things that you're finding that people disagree on then? One of the things that's problematic for people in the survey as a proposal to use social security payments is that there's some proposals that allow you to effectively borrow against your future social security. That you can get certain amounts of leave time now if you agree to delay your ability to get the time when you can get social security payments in the future. That was not something that was roughly split in the survey. But when you dig down, you find it's very interesting is that it was older people who either are close to or receiving social security now who largely oppose that. People in childbearing ages largely favored that, which suggests that the issue isn't so much that ability to borrow, but rather ensuring older Americans that you can do this and their benefits would still be safe. But that was the proposal that along with increasing taxes also did not get a huge lot of support. So people don't want to pay higher taxes for this. And there's a lot of question about whether you should be able to borrow against social security in order to finance this.

And those are the things that we tested that had the most significant disagreement. I guess you didn't survey this, but are you getting any sense for if business organizations are opposing this in favor of it or come down on either side yet? Yeah, no.

It's a sort of thing. A lot of businesses are offering this as a benefit already, whether it is as part of a short-term disability policy where pregnancy in the aftermath is characterized as a short-term disability or independently. But the vast majority of employers are not, and particularly the vast majority of small employers are not. Employers have not really weighed in too much. Typically, they prefer that somebody else pay for the cost of those benefits, which means that if it's going to come, they almost certainly prefer that it come from the government rather than be a mandate on themselves.

But this is not yet something that the business community has really prioritized or the different parts of a business community, the small versus large business especially, has come to a consensus. So how do you suppose the paid family leave is compatible with the conservative philosophy of small government? How do we work that out as conservatives? Well, that's actually a choice that I think has to be made, which is that if you're comfortable with the current system, most workers, particularly economically vulnerable workers, do not have access to this. And what you're saying is, okay, we prefer liberty to a position that could strengthen family and improve newborn's wellness. And we live in a world where we have a large government.

That's not going to go away any time soon. So I think the better way for conservatives to think about this is whether or not supporting family life and supporting family choices is an appropriate intervention in the context of a system that's going to have interventions anyway. And I think on that score, you'd find that most conservatives would say if the government's going to intervene, we want it to intervene on the side of families rather than the inside of liberal programs or special interest demands. Okay, so is a widespread or even nationwide family leave policy workable, in your opinion? And are there examples of paid family leave policies that have worked in similar economic systems?

We're pretty much an outlier in this as the United States. Most other if not every other country that is a developed country offers some type of government financed paid family leave policy. Even more conservative countries like Australia have a government financed paid family leave policy that covers the first few weeks after birth.

So we have lots of evidence to show that it works. The longer the leave, the more expensive it is. And that, of course, is problematic that you not only increase taxes in order to pay for that, but you also keep somebody out of the labor force longer. And if somebody takes a year off to be with their newborn, they're a year behind when they come back.

They haven't worked with new people in their business. Some of their skills may, particularly in a technological world, be less relevant, and that could hurt rather than help. But all these systems are compatible with high levels of employment, high levels of well being, and high levels of economic development. So I think it's pretty clear that the system can work. The question is whether America wants the trade offs and how to manage them. And what are the biggest challenges, do you think, to implementing this paid family leave policy?

Most of the other countries that do this do not have some of the strictures that the poll suggests Americans or particularly conservatives might want, which is that they do tend to add to government expenditure. So if you're going to try and do it on a net neutral basis, then the question is what gets phased out in order to pay for this? And that would be a very contentious battle if that were what was going to happen. I also think one of the large obstacles is the slippery slope argument, which is, yes, you can start it at 12 weeks, but inevitably it's going to expand as people try and bid for voter support. And that also is a real issue that there clearly would be a risk of that, and it could start at three months, but in 15 years it could be six months or nine months if that's the way the voters go. And then that, of course, increased costs and increases some of those trade offs. So I think those are some challenges as addressing how to deal with that. I did deal with the costs, deal with, if it's an employer mandate, which just seems to be what's favored, of course, how to deal with offsetting some of that with respect to the cost, particularly for small businesses.

So those are some of the challenges is how to make sure that you get the right benefit that is targeted to the right people, doesn't displace existing plans to the extent possible, and also doesn't cost too much money. You've mentioned the benefits, but can you be a little more specific or outline a few more? What are the public and social benefits of having a paid family leave policy in place? Well, yeah, there's a lot of evidence that suggests that newborns particularly do well when they are either breastfed or are in close proximity to their mother in particular during the first few months of life. And a paid family leave makes it possible for a mother to do that without sacrificing her job or her income to the extent that there are many paid family leave policies that also include fathers or to the extent that it's not possible for a woman to spend three months. It also means that a parent can be present, which is also very helpful as opposed to putting a newborn immediately into a structured, impersonal childcare system.

There's a lot of evidence that that sort of initial bonding is very helpful to a child's subsequent development, and that's what paid family leave facilitates. Right. And of course, for those of us who are getting older and have friends who are trying to take care of either spouses that have dementia or parents, this could also be very valuable, I would think, on the other end of the spectrum as well.

Right. We tend to focus on the newborns because that would be the most frequent use of it. But there is that question. That's also something that we could use and mention to talk to older people who will be concerned about cost or with respect to the Social Security program, whether the risk to Social Security, as they might perceive it, is worth the cost. The fact is, there's lots of people who would have to deal with elderly parents who need care or they need to take time off in order to manage their transfer to a structured care setting that's appropriate for them.

And this would be something that gives them the security of being able to do that. And that, too, is something that just makes families stronger as opposed to mere units that are of equal value as anything else in the economic production scheme. How does paid family leave fit into the current benefits or welfare program structures that we have? It wouldn't fit neatly into it because so many of our welfare programs are need-based, in the sense of need-based on income. There are proposals that would make it more like a welfare program and less like an entitlement program, and that would be something that would need to be discussed. And one thing that could be done if the government is going to increase expenditures is subsidize the pickup of businesses to offer the sort of short-term disability policies that would provide it privately. That's, again, many large companies, particularly those serving professional workforces with large numbers of women, do this.

One way to address this would be to do some of the subsidizing of private insurance that would use the public funds to target more effectively. Great. Well, we're just about out of time for this week, but before we go, where can our listeners go to learn more about paid family leave and see the survey results that we talked about today? The survey results are posted on the Ethics and Public Policy Center website, which is EPPC, that's, and you can find the survey results there, as well as videotapes of two events that we've held that discuss the details and also provide some of the counterarguments from a conservative or libertarian perspective.

Great. Well, Henry Olson, thank you so much for joining us today on Family Policy Matters. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to this show online and to learn more about NC Families' work to inform, encourage, and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at That's Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-19 20:55:22 / 2023-09-19 21:01:22 / 6

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