Why a Republican Plan for Paid Leave Has Stirred Concern About Social Security

Paid leave for new parents, long a Democratic cause, has become a Republican one, too. But policymakers don’t agree on what a leave plan should look like. Now some Republicans have a new idea: Let people collect Social Security benefits early to pay for time off after they have a baby.

Unlike some other proposals, this would require no new taxes. There’s a catch, though: Parents would have their Social Security benefits delayed when they retire to offset the costs.

Social Security has long been viewed as an untouchable part of the social safety net. By letting people tap it for parental leave, it would begin to feel more like an individual account — an idea conservatives have been trying to advance for decades.

The new parental leave plan comes from a right-leaning group called the Independent Women’s Forum, and its president, Carrie Lukas, who said Social Security was based on an antiquated idea of working life. “Women are a bigger part of the work force now, and they need support at different times of their lives rather than just starting at 67,” she said.

More broadly, Ms. Lukas has said that she hoped the proposal would “encourage an important mental shift” in the way people think about Social Security. If individuals view it as “property,” she reasons, it could lead to the embrace of personal accounts.

That reasoning is why some experts view the proposal as a backdoor way to try to curb the scale and cost of Social Security. They also said it could put women in a more precarious position in retirement, adding yet another financial penalty to the list that women pay when they become mothers. Women have lower earnings, smaller Social Security benefitsand less financial security in retirement because they spend a disproportionate amount of time away from work to raise children, research shows. Drawing down their Social Security benefits early could compound the problem.

“Here you have a situation where women live longer, but they tend to live both sicker and poorer because of the caregiving they do,” said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit that champions women’s economic security. “With this proposal, we would be asking them to borrow against the already inadequate support they receive from Social Security.”

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, a supporter of the idea, said it would provide women with more financial security by encouraging them to stay in the work force after they have children. “I think about those women that will leave the work force because that’s their only option, and this provides them a way to take some time off, spend time devoted to their family and then return,” she said.

The new proposal is one of several being considered by Ivanka Trump and others in the White House to expand paid leave beyond the 13 percent of workers who have access to it through their employers.

– New York Times

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