Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Pitches Paid Family Leave Tradeoff

It's a clever idea, but it has problems.


Douglas Christian/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says he will unveil a bill this week that will let workers finance parental leave by delaying retirement.

"Falling rates of marriage and childbirth, coupled with the loss of stable, good-paying employment in a rapidly shifting global economy are making young families socially and financially insecure," Rubio and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) write in a USA Today op-ed published today. (Wagner will be introducing similar legislation in the House.) "Today, having a child can be an income shock matched only by college tuition or a down payment on a home," the lawmakers add.

Rubio's legislation, dubbed the Economic Security for New Parents Act, doesn't force employers to pay for their workers' time off. Rather, it allows mothers and fathers to pay their expenses while on leave using their future Social Security benefits. "Parents taking the option would receive monthly payments that will help cover costs like rent, groceries and new baby supplies during a time of significant income constraints," the lawmakers write. In return, parents must put off retirement for three to six months. The conservative Independent Women's Forum first laid out the idea in a January paper.

Rubio and Wagner say the tradeoff is more than fair. "The financial constraints workers face in the first few weeks after having a child and those after turning 65 years old are not equal," they write. "Our proposal would be a consistent application of Social Security's original principle—to provide assistance to dependents in our care—to the challenges of today."

It's a clever idea, but it has problems. Social Security is already going bankrupt, so it's not like there's lots of extra cash lying around for people who haven't hit retirement age. And as Reason's Shikha Dalmia notes,

Just because employers don't have to fund the program doesn't mean there would be no cost to them. The scheme will incentivize more workers to take off and for longer periods of time. This will be especially disruptive for small businesses and start-ups that operate on a shoestring budget and can't spread the responsibilities of the absent workers across a large workforce. They will inevitably shy away from hiring young women of childbearing age. This will diminish these women's job options.

Many employers can afford to let workers take the time off, of course—and as the Cato Institute's Vanessa Brown Calder points out, a lot of them already offer paid family leave. "In a national study, 63 percent of working mothers said their employer provided paid maternity leave benefits," Calder writes. Lawmakers should let the market work this out instead of introducing new incentives that could leave small businesses and job-seeking women worse off.