The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

My "USA Today" op ed criticizing Trump's proposed parental leave mandate


USA Today just published my op ed criticizing the parental leave mandate included in President Trump's proposed budget:

President Trump's budget includes a proposal for six weeks of mandated paid family leave for new parents. Despite its superficial appeal, this idea is likely to harm families more than it helps….

Mandatory paid leave is not a free lunch. It must somehow be paid for. Any mandated benefit makes the workers in question more costly to employers, who will try to offset the expense in some way. Potential beneficiaries are likely to end up with lower salaries, fewer benefits of other types, or both. Many workers who prefer higher salaries, and non-leave benefits, will lose out.

By limiting choice, government-mandated family leave hurts female workers more than it helps them. It also makes it more costly to hire women of childbearing age. This is true even if the benefit is financed by taxpayers (as will be at least partially the case under the Trump plan)….

Fifty-eight percent of large U.S. employers already offer paid maternity leave. Many of the remainder forbear because employees value other benefits more, or because the absence of key workers imposes unusually high costs.

As between two equally costly benefits, employers have obvious incentives to offer the one workers like better. In a diverse society with a wide range of employers and workers, Trump's one-size-fits-all mandate is the wrong way to go.

I am grateful to the USA Today editorial board for offering me the opportunity to present a view that runs counter to their own, as part of their "opposing view" series. Because this type of column only gets about 350 words, some nuances understandably had to be left unaddressed. For example, the fact that this mandate would make it more expensive to hire women of childbearing age is important not just because it increases costs for employers, but because it is likely to lead them to hire fewer members of this group (who are disproportionately likely to use even a formally gender-neutral leave benefit).

In a September 2016 post, I explained the constitutional problems with the original version of Trump's proposal, which was limited to mothers only. The new proposal, while vague on many key issues, avoids this problem by treating parents of both sexes equally.