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Trump’s Paid Parental Leave Plan Is Not Enough For America’s Working Families

May 25, 2017

A few months ago, I got totally sucked in by a piece in New York magazine, which laid out in catty detail what it’s like to live in a Trump building. The comments of one resident, who calls Trump Parc home, made a particular impression on me.

“The construction is shoddy,” this person said. “Thin walls. Plumbing is terrible. Everything was done to cut corners but to make it look really beautiful.”

I had the same reaction when I saw this week that the Trump administration had included paid parental leave in its budget.

The proposed program, which has been championed by First Daughter Ivanka Trump, gives the White House a chance to flash a little sheen at a constituency that the president courted hard when he was on the campaign trail: working families.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has called the plan “groundbreaking.” Studies show, in fact, that paid parental leave can have a significant positive effect on the health of children and mothers. It can also help employers by lifting morale and lowering turnover.

For now, the U.S. remains one of just a handful of the 193 members of the United Nations—alongside New Guinea, Suriname, and a few island countries in the South Pacific—that doesn’t have paid parental leave. White House officials have said that its policy would benefit 1.3 million women and men.

But Trump’s plumbing is lousy.

Under the administration’s plan, which carries a price tag of about $19 billion over 10 years, states would be required to provide six weeks of parental leave, while giving them wide latitude to design and finance the initiative. Yet this pales in comparison with what workers in other countries receive.

What Trump is advocating “is better than nothing, but it’s very bare-bones,” says Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at City University of New York.

Across Europe, she notes, paid leave typically lasts for four to six months—and sometimes up to a year—and replenishes 80% to 100% of a new parent’s earnings.

Because so many of the particulars are still up in the air, it’s impossible to gauge how much of a worker’s wages the Trump program would replace. But Milkman, the co-author of Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy, figures that most states won’t come anywhere close to European norms.

The four states that already have implemented or passed paid parental leave programs of their own—California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York—make up, or are eventually slated to make up, only 50% to 70% of someone’s wages for four to 12 weeks. And these are the progressive leaders on this issue; most states aren’t likely to be so generous.

Of course, it’s not just the expected paucity of pay for parents who’d take a leave under the Trump plan that belies the president’s claim that he is eager to “bring relief to working and middle class families.”

More telling are all of the drastic cuts that he has put forth in his budget, as well as a number of actions that the administration has taken to weaken workplace standards.

“Taking a lot away from working families—and then adding this one thing—is not the right solution,” says Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

At the top of many experts’ list of concerns is the provision in the White House budget to slash spending for Medicaid, the health program for the poor, by more than $800 billion over the next decade. Notably, the majority of non-disabled adults who receive Medicaid are working.

Many federal job-training programs would also be cut by as much as 40% under the president’s budget—despite Trump having touted the importance of workforce development.

Beyond the budget are other causes for alarm—and anger.

“You have to look at what’s being bellowed at the top of the administration’s lungs—‘We’re supporting workers’—versus what’s happening behind closed doors,” says Heidi Shierholz, who leads the Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages at the Economic Policy Institute and served as chief economist at the Labor Department during the Obama administration.

Shierholz and her colleagues have tracked moves by the Trump administration—and its GOP allies in Congress—that would, among other things, make it easier for companies to hide their safety problems and other workplace violations, as well as hurt workers saving for their retirement.

“The Trump administration,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich told me recently, “is taking a hands-off approach to corporations with regard to almost every worker protection that has been developed since the 1930s.”

Meanwhile, we have a paid family leave plan from a man who in 2004 described pregnancy as “an inconvenience for a business." It’s time to start looking behind the sink.

Rick Wartzman is director of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, a part of Claremont Graduate University. His latest book is The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America.

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