Center for American Progress panel: Paid Family Leave law subsidizes love for broke Californians

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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The Daily Caller attentively listened to panelists laud California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) law when one expert began to expound on breastfeeding. There was even a chart. Suddenly, it occurred to TheDC that it was surrounded almost entirely by women.

Until that moment, it had been difficult enough staying focused. There were data points and statistics and survey results and public policy speculation and mutated theories on social justice. Hosting the panel was the Center for American Progress. Its massive office has a very sleek, modernist feng-shui-thing going on and the spread of whole wheat deli sandwiches, in retrospect, should have been sampled.

It was all a bit much to take in, even without the perky women, nearly all of whom were dressed in subdued, urban chic. It was a room full of hipster bank tellers.

Two of the panelists had just published a report on California’s six-year-old PFL law. Apparently, the program is going swimmingly. It allows employees — male and female — to take up to six weeks off to “bond” with a newborn or care for a seriously ill relative. It’s all paid for by a 1.2 percent payroll tax levied on every Californians’ paycheck.

The panelists — whose main focus, it seemed, wasn’t so much caring for the sick but having more time to coo over a newborn —  said support for the program in California is “extremely high” among everyone (even small businesses!) with just a insignificant “minority” moaning and complaining. It all sounds so good. It’s a huge success!

There are only a few issues, said the panelists. Employers can still fire people for taking off work, not enough people are using the program and it’s going to take a lot of effort to make it a big f-ing deal (that is, “federal”). On the plus side, women love having more time to nurse their babies — as evidenced by the bar graph showing the approval of said nursers, which looked like a chart of Enron’s profits circa 1999.

And with that, TheDC had an issue of its own: all TheDC could think about were breasts.

This was a very uncomfortable thing. As almost every heterosexual man will never tell you, thinking about boobs doesn’t lead to thinking about sex. Thinking about boobs means thinking about sex.

TheDC had meant to ask the panelists how a program that encourages people not to work was a good thing, especially in California. One of the panelists had said that “California’s program is a model for every other state and the country.” Another panelist (and the “Legislative Director“ for a certain representative) eagerly noted that the program was a success  in “the 8th largest economy in the world.”

What everyone in the room failed to note was that California is dying. More specifically, it’s bankrupt; the most broke state in the union, in fact.

With sex on the brain but still on the clock, however, the question TheDC asked of panelist Ann O’Leary later in the day was awkward, at best: Should a bankrupt, out-of-work  state be offering incentives for a bunch of brokes to make babies?

“People are going to get pregnant no matter what,” O’Leary, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, astutely noted. “It’s purchasing insurance just in the same way people now are going to have a requirement to have health insurance.”

Getting car insurance isn’t the same as purchasing house insurance. There is, however, such a thing as “baby insurance.” It’s called safe-sex practices. Suggesting sexual restraint, however, went over like a cold shower with O’Leary.

“It’s not realistic and not the kind of American way to suggest that we should encourage people not to have kids,” O’Leary told TheDC. “People are going to have kids, it’s the way we regenerate.”

It could have been all the sex talk, but TheDC was generally confused. Is suggesting that people try to plan ahead and keep it in their pants un-American? Technically, yes. The Chinese do it. But as the nation’s economic policies indicate, there’s nothing more American than China.

Not helping the confusion was the fact that money for PFL is distributed by the State Disability Insurance program. While it’s long been mandated that California mothers have time off for their actual pregnancy, PFL allows additional time and money for both mothers and fathers to “bond” with their child. This “gender neutral” post-pregnancy bonding is considered a disability in California equatable to a “heart attack,” according O’Leary.

O’Leary called the question — the one about the implications of classifying baby-making and care a disability — “interesting,” but with so much great news coming from the report, silly questions like that don’t really need to a straight answer.

What is important, according to the panelists, is that poorer folks now have an opportunity to maintain their family without completely losing out in a heaving job market (even though, at 55 percent of wages, PFL doesn’t do much for those already at minimum wage). According to the panel, employers whose employees have utilized the program are overwhelmingly for the program. The panelists said that the program’s original “opponents” contended that it would be a “job-killer” but they’re now happy to report that it’s been a “non-event for employers” and that “none complained.”

Like a stack of dirty sex mags, the program looks great on paper and apparently even New Jersey thought “hey, we should try that!” While the panelists proudly note that the Garden State has modeled a similar program after California’s, what no one mentioned is that the two states have another thing in common: their sucky economies. Like California, New Jersey’s budget is a little flaccid.

Looking toward the future, O’Leary said advocacy groups want to encourage business to not fire those who take off after having a lot of great, debilitating sex. And “By ‘encourage,’ I mean change the law,” O’Leary told TheDC.

As for the rest of the country, O’Leary and the other panelists are hoping to one day have PFL included as part of the country’s social security program. Having succeeded in two broke states in which people are more in need of work than baby bonding, the next logical step — naturally — is a nationwide program. Because nothing fixes a struggling family like making it bigger.

This won’t happen any time in the near future, said the panel. It’s not too early to hope, but the country is still too poor to consider it. That doesn’t mean advocates for Paid Family Leave can’t, you know, plan ahead.