Trump courts women’s vote with a maternity leave policy that will ultimately hurt women

On Tuesday, Donald Trump attempted to increase his support from women voters by announcing a policy that would provide six weeks of paid maternity leave to new mothers whose employers do not currently guarantee paid leave.

On the surface, his plan appears to alleviate the difficulties that many women face when combining motherhood and a career. In reality, such a policy will increase workplace discrimination against women while reinforcing outdated gender norms.  

{mosads}The United States remains the only industrialized nation that does not provide paid family leave for either women or men. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 guarantees twelve weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for workers to care for a new child, a family member with a serious illness or injury, or the employee’s own serious health condition.

But because of the stringent eligibility requirements, such as working at least one year for a company with fifty or more employees in a seventy-five mile radius, only about 60 percent of the workforce is covered.

Family leave with wage replacement is even more difficult to obtain; currently only 13 percent of civilian workers in the United States have access to paid leave through their employer.

California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have successfully implemented employee-funded paid family leave programs that cover men and women for the same reasons as the FMLA; beginning in 2018, New York will join this list.

These state-level policies stand in stark contrast to Trump’s recent proposal, which applies only to women and does not clearly list the eligibility requirements. Under Trump’s plan, men will receive no paid leave to bond with a new child.

Such an exclusion will be especially harmful to single dads or fathers in a same-sex relationship. Moreover, it is unclear whether women who adopt children will be covered under Trump’s plan.  

Because paid leave will be available only to mothers, women will take time away from work at a significantly higher rate than men. As a result, many employers will — either consciously or unconsciously — see women as less devoted to the job than men.

Once women are set on the “mommy track,” they are less likely to receive promotions and raises, which increases the gender wage gap in lifetime earnings.

Similarly, a nationwide paid maternity leave policy will discourage employers from hiring women in the first place, fearing their presumed departure from the workforce to have and raise children. Not only will this hurt women’s career aspirations, it will also reduce company’s productivity and ingenuity as they neglect a significant section of the candidate pool.

Trump’s plan would also contribute to increased gender discrimination in the home, as maternity leave reinforces the belief that women should be the primary caregivers. Consequently, women are held responsible for a greater share of childcare and housework, even after they return to the workforce.

Trump has promised that his maternity leave program will not increase taxes; rather, leave will be funded by savings resulting from eliminating waste and fraud in the government’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. He says that administrative costs will also be low because the plan will be run through the existing UI program.

However, the UI system is already stretched thin in many states, and the addition of maternity leave coverage would likely require new infrastructure for implementation. Moreover, it is doubtful that the UI system could cover even the meager maternity benefits that Trump is promising.

Unemployment Insurance is a federal-state program, which means that states could decide to opt out of the paid leave program that Trump has proposed, which would lead to uneven coverage across the country. Likewise, because maternity leave benefits would be an extension of unemployment benefits, payments to mothers would vary dramatically by state.

On the Democratic side of the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has also incorporated paid family leave into her platform. Her proposal would provide workers with two-thirds of their wages (up to a ceiling) for up to twelve weeks for the same reasons covered by the FMLA.

Clinton’s plan has been criticized by Republicans because it would be funded by increased taxes on high-income earners. But many paid family leave advocates applaud the plan because it extends benefits beyond new parents, acknowledging that many workers also need time off to care for an ailing family member or the employee’s own serious health condition.

This greater inclusion will reduce the workplace animosity that can breed between employees with and without young children as a result of benefits that are only available to new parents.

There are limitations to both Clinton’s and Trump’s family leave proposals. However, Clinton is making an effort to address the changing family landscape, acknowledging that both women and men take part in caregiving today.

Trump, on the other hand, is perpetuating the antiquated idea that women are solely responsible for raising children. His plan is out of touch with modern families and workplaces, and if implemented, it will ultimately harm those families and workplaces.

Megan A. Sholar is a Lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program at Loyola University Chicago. She is the author of Getting Paid While Taking Time: The Women’s Movement and the Development of Paid Family Leave Policies in the United States (2016).

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Family and Medical Leave Act Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton

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