MSNBC.com published an article this week citing a report by the organization Human Rights Watch that claims the US is “decades behind” other countries in having national laws guaranteeing paid parental leave. The report, entitled “Failing its Families”, describes this as an “embarrassment” and compares the US with Swaziland and Papua New Guinea as the few primitive countries that don’t offer such benefits to their citizens.
To which I say – nonsense. The US is not “behind” on this issue. For one thing the notion that the US should do whatever other countries do is just absurd. But on the substance of the issue, if people cannot afford to take time off work to carry out the normal responsibility of caring for their newborn children, then they cannot afford to have children.
This really looks to me like an attempt to shift responsibility for the cost of raising children away from parents onto the government and to redistribute income from the wealthy and the childless to those who are less wealthy and choose to have children. Even the title of the report invites us to make the uncritical assumption that families are the government’s responsibility.
Is there a case for providing a way to spread the cost burden of parental leave over a parent’s working life? Sure, if it’s necessary, but (a) it’s not clear to me that it is and (b) I don’t believe there is a good case for further spreading the costs of decisions that these individuals make over the population as a whole. I think there are perfectly good arguments for governments providing a safety net for people who find themselves in difficult circumstances for reasons they can’t control. But that’s clearly not what this is about.