Robbing By The Cradle: Paying For Babies at the Expense of Retirement

Robbing By The Cradle: Paying For Babies at the Expense of Retirement March 20, 2019
Baby being hugged by their father /pixabay

It has become extremely difficult for our youth to come together and form families. Many things stand in their way. They need to get an education; this is something few can do without any student loans. Then they need to get a job, but how many of them find good paying careers are easy to find? Few and far between! And when they finally get themselves a sustainable career (if they ever do), and they find a spouse, they find that it now takes both spouses working long hours to sustain their livelihood.  Many jobs offer long, hard hours of labor with little pay. Job security, likewise, is an issue. Many companies lay off long-established workers, who then find it difficult to get another job.[1] Those who somehow find a long-term job find their employers place many expectations on them for their loyalty.

How can a couple, struggling to survive, have the time or money needed in order to raise children? The less job security the couple has, the more relevant this question becomes. Allowing a short time off from work after a baby is born is important, but can a family who barely makes it on two incomes make it on one (or none)? Requiring job security for those who take a leave of absence helps with some of the stress involved with raising a family, but it is not enough: there needs to be monetary security as well.

The solution to the conundrum is not to offer paid leave which comes at the expense of one’s retirement. This, alas, is what Senators Mike Lee (Utah) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) have suggested, as Salon reported:

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa introduced the Cradle Act to allow new parents to raid their own Social Security savings and delay their retirement and benefits in order to get up to three months of “paid” leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The lawmakers claim this is a “paid” leave policy even though it is paid for entirely by individuals and essentially just permits people to lend themselves money from retirement savings. [2]

For each leaven taken after a child born, more of their Social Security savings will be used: those who happen to have a large family will find themselves more in “debt,” requiring more years of work before retirement (if, of course, they are able to keep their jobs in their declining years). According to the Act, the leave will be paid back in twice as much work time than they took off:

The CRADLE Act would allow both natural and adoptive parents to receive one, two, or three months of paid leave benefits by giving them the option to delay activating their Social Security benefits for two, four or six months. Expectant parents would simply fill out a form to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of their intention to take paid leave before an expected birth or adoption. Then, after the birth or adoption, the SSA would begin payments two weeks after parents applied for their baby’s social security number.[3]

Senators backing the act suggest that this is a little price to pay, as if it should not be a problem. Of course it will be a problem! For those who are in need, for those who are not rich, nor expected to strike it rich in their life, the price might be too high! Work in the world is becoming precious, and the fight to keep good paying jobs will continue into the future, with those who are older and have higher pay more likely to be laid off. What is going to happen to a couple who have been forced to wait for Social Security when they are older and cannot find jobs? They cannot retire and yet they cannot work.

This really is a raid on Social Security. Many hold no love for Social Security see it as an entitlement to be eliminated. Yet, the same people who think this are the same ones who have no financial difficulties themselves. They are wealthy, and they will make money on the lives which they harm with policies such as the Cradle Act. They are taking more and more from the poor, expecting and requiring more from the poor than what they expect of themselves. They have wealth, and so they do not even see or understand the plight of the poor, either in their youth as they try to start families, or what will happen in their old age if they have not been able to make enough money to sustain a dignified life. Politicians trying to remove the safety net seek every way possible to subvert programs in place so that they can be made to fail. They frown upon workers’ rights, using every leverage that they can to reduce them. They want to destroy unions. They want to remove protections workers have at work. They want workers to be entirely dependent upon them as a servile class. So long as workers have protections, the servile state cannot take effect; for this reason, they do everything they can to erode that protection, often through trojan horses which look like they are giving something to workers while they actually are taking away more from them in the process (as the Cradle Act would do).

Pope Leo XIII, in Rerum Novarum, made it clear, workers rights must be protected from those who would exploit them:

If we turn not to things external and material, the first thing of all to secure is to save unfortunate working people from the cruelty of men of greed, who use human beings as mere instruments for money-making. It is neither just nor human so to grind men down with excessive labor as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies. Man’s powers, like his general nature, are limited, and beyond these limits he cannot go.[4]

Likewise, as Saint Paul VI told us, society must look after and protect the needy, giving a preferential option for the poor, making sure they are fairly treated by our legislators:

In fact, human rights are still too often disregarded, if not scoffed at, or else they receive only formal recognition. In many cases legislation does not keep up with real situations. Legislation is necessary, but it is not sufficient for setting up true relationships of justice and equity. In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others. If, beyond legal rules, there is really no deeper feeling of respect for and service to others, then even equality before the law can serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, continued exploitation and actual contempt. Without a renewed education in solidarity, an overemphasis of equality can give rise to an individualism in which each one claims his own rights without wishing to be answerable for the common good.[5]

The more fortunate, those with wealth and power, must look after and care for the average worker. When there is an unjust burden placed upon the poor, that burden must be overturned. The Cradle Act, to be sure, gives the poor some means of sustaining themselves while having a family, but it does so at a price which will come due at the time of their retirement. The rich, those with wealth, will not have to worry about that burden, but the poor will. This makes the Cradle Act unjust, and cannot be supported as it stands. Other ways to deal with this need have been suggested: Senator Gillibrand for example, promoted a tax, two cents per ten dollars, levied against employers and employees alike; though better, this still does not satisfy as the tax will be regressive, affecting the poor more than the rich. A variation of this idea, which does not look to tax workers could be developed which would take care of this problem. As wealth is being generated and then held by a limited few, distribution of that wealth is not only possible, but just as it would promote the universal distribution of those goods which the preferential option for the poor expects:

 The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force. “This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods. Today, furthermore, given the worldwide dimension which the social question has assumed, this love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care and, above all, those without hope of a better future.”[6]

If we are concerned about families, we must find a way to support them.  We cannot accept suggestions which will place the burden on those who are poor and needy. A properly funded family leave bill will not solve all problems, but it will help. As the Cradle Act is not such a bill, it must be rejected. Then legislators can figure out a sound, just alternative to deal with the problem, and when they do, then we should make sure it is not only promoted, but turned into law.


[1] Often, this is done to cut costs so that a few people can make unseemly amounts of money.

[2] Igor Derysh, “GOP ‘Paid Leave’ Bill Could Force New Parents to Raid Social Security, Delay Retirement,” Salon (3-14-2019).

[3] Mike Lee, “Press Release: Sens. Ernst, Lee Put Forward Paid Parental Leave Plan That is Budget Neutral and Flexible for Parents” (3-12-2019).

[4] Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum. Vatican Translation. no. 42.

[5] Saint Paul VI, Octogessima Adveniens, Vatican Translation. no. 23.

[6] The Compendium of Social Doctrine. Vatican Translation.no.182.

 

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