D. Dowd Muska


No Employer-Employee Interaction Left Unregulated

April 24, 2014

What this economy needs is another employer mandate.

That’s the view of the left’s fedpols, activists, lobbyists, and wonks, who reflexively back the “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act.” Sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the legislation establishes “an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits.” Securing its revenue from “employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each,” the kitty would cover up to 12 weeks of paid leave for “every individual regardless of the size of their current employer and regardless of whether such individual is currently employed by an employer, self-employed or currently unemployed, as long as the person has sufficient earnings and work history.”

The Center for American Progress, flacking for the bill, lectures policymakers that it’s not 1938 anymore. The Fair Labor Standards Act, the liberal think tank advises, needs an update. It should recognize that the era of the “full-time, stay-at-home caregiver” is kaput, and that now, most workers “are responsible for the care of either children or older family members, which means that there are times when they need to be away from their jobs without fear of reprisal.”

To its supporters, paid leave isn’t an expensive burden, but a mechanism to cut costs. It’s said to reduce turnover, attract high-quality recruits, and improve productivity. Sounds plausible, at first. But the benefits touted are drawn primarily from dodgy research on systems abroad or in the three states that have recently enacted paid-leave “insurance.”

Life happens. Events, planned and unanticipated, can make staying on the job impossible. But paid-leave advocates have yet to present compelling evidence that they’ve identified a national cataclysm. Their campaign is based on anecdotes, vague assertions about “choosing between your job and taking care of yourself and your family,” and the bromide that America is “the only developed country that does not include paid leave as part of a package of basic labor protections.”

The evidence gap isn’t surprising. As Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women’s Forum noted, “it would be counterproductive for employers to fire any employee who must take time off due to illness or the birth of a child. Aside from the potential publicity problems, it would be costly to constantly hire and train replacement workers.” Paid-leave enthusiasts fail to understand that bosses need competent, hardworking personnel -- dumping a valued member of the staff because he or she has a domestic emergency or pressing medical issue isn’t good for the bottom line.

Got a problem, get a program. It’s the unlimited-government crowd’s mantra. But if the self-proclaimed champions of workin’ folks weren’t so biased, they’d realize that other approaches are available to expand options for employees facing a personal or family crisis.

One alternative comes approved by Dr. Dobson. However bizarre the married-couple, sole-breadwinner model appears in 2014, it worked. With a spouse at home -- once it was exclusively the wife, today it would sometimes be the husband -- caring for a child or providing assistance to a senior citizen isn’t an unmanageable challenge. And in the case of a head of household becoming unable to work, his or her partner could step up. (Even über-moonbat Elizabeth Warren, in The Two-Income Trap, wrote of the days when a stay-at-home mother “didn’t simply stand helplessly on the sidelines as her family toppled off an economic cliff,” but sought to “add a new income source to help the family stay afloat financially.”)

A robust growth agenda would make the single-paycheck household feasible again, especially since so much of the country is moving to low-cost states. But deregulation, demilitarization, tax cuts, an end to crony capitalism, and a thorough rollback of the welfare state aren’t the kinds of recommendations found in Center for American Progress issue briefs.

When an economy booms, firms must operate in an increasingly competitive labor market. Pay rates rise, but so do other forms of compensation. If America were to experience the kind of growth that occurred during the Reagan and Clinton years, there’s little doubt that paid-leave arrangements would proliferate.

Finally, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island already have paid-leave schemes in place. Why not let the remaining “progressive” states play copycat, and permit Texas and its ideological ilk to continue to opt out? The experiment would yield ample findings for credible, dispassionate analysts to dissect.

Another payroll tax? A new “trust fund” for fedpols to bungle -- er, “administer”? More D.C.-based micromanagement of the employer-employee relationship?

It’s lousy policy. Let’s pass.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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