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SOCIALISTS COMING FOR YOUR FAMILY VALUES, EVERYBODY PANIC!
Hey, what if we REALLY acted like children are the future?
We actually have a genuine Nice Time for you today -- none of that mixed-blessing stuff like a story of a good person who got horribly discriminated against but then had the last laugh. Nope, this is just a terrific idea about reshaping a part of the economy to fit human needs and make everyone's life better, except of course for the lives of greedheads, but they're all miserable anyway because of all the Greed.
The nonprofit People's Policy Project has a nifty proposal for a national family policy that would put economic equality behind the notion of "family values" and address the decidedly non-family-friendly realities of capitalism. They call the thing the "Family Fun Pack," and you better bet they're deliberately playing off the silly advertise-y tone of that slogan. Heck, why use that name for discount tickets to a water park when we could make actual families' lives better?
At the heart of the proposal -- detailed in a longer essay by Matt Bruenig -- is a set of ideas that would make life a lot easier for parents of young children, who tend to be young and just starting out in employment, and whose peak income won't come until the most expensive -- and developmentally important -- parts of their kids' lives are in the past. Here's a quick rundown, shamelessly copy-pasted for a Friday afternoon!
Baby box.Three months before the birth of a child, each family will receive a box that contains essential items like clothes and bottles with the box itself doubling as a bassinet.
Parental Leave.Families will receive 36 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child. In single-parent families, the sole parent is entitled to all 36 weeks. In two-parent families, each parent is entitled to 18 weeks but may transfer up to 14 weeks to the other parent. The paid leave benefit will be set equal to 100 percent of earnings up to the minimum wage and 66 percent of earnings beyond the minimum wage. All recipients will be entitled to benefits equal to at least the minimum wage but no more than the national average wage.
Free child care.After the parental leave period, children will be entitled to a spot in a free public child care center. Parents who wish to care for their children at home can opt out and receive a home child care allowance equal to the per-child wages of child care workers. For example, if public child care workers are tasked with caring for four kids at a time, then the home child care allowance would be equal to one-fourth of the pay of child care workers.
Free pre-k.From age 3 to 5, children will be entitled to spot in a free pre-k center.
Free school lunch.Public child care centers, public pre-k centers, and public k-12 will all provide free school lunches.
Free health care.Everyone below the age of 26 will be entitled to free health care through the Medicare system.
Child allowance.Parents will receive $300 per month for every child they are caring for under the age of 18. This benefit will replace the child tax credit, child and dependent care tax credit, dependent care flexible savings accounts, 529 accounts as used for elementary or secondary school, and head of household filing status. It will also mostly replace the earned income tax credit.
There's a lot more detail and discussion in Bruenig's essay, so read it! The policies are all designed to get at one weird aspect of Our Capitalist Economy that frankly had us exclaiming, Oh god, that is so fucking true! Prepare to have your mind blown:
Capitalist economies only provide income to those who work and those who own. Since children neither work nor own, they find themselves locked out of the primary mechanisms of resource distribution in a capitalist society. To the extent that children receive resources, they do so indirectly through a family unit.
Obviously, the solution is child labor. Make the little bastards get some skin in the game.
OR MAYBE we could change the way we think about policies that affect kids. Instead of, say, thinking about parental leave as a benefit for workers, think of it as something that will help newborns create attachments to their parents, making them far healthier for the whole rest of their lives. Free child care isn't just good for parents in the workforce, it's good for kids, since they'll be nurtured while their parents bring home an income. That's good for everyone. Universal healthcare for everyone up to the age of 26? Affordable, since most children are already pretty healthy but will have better outcomes if they're given regular preventive care, and it could serve as a step toward Medicare for All (bwa ha ha, socialism!!!).
The policies are also designed to address a couple of structural problems that result from having kids. Bruenig calls the first the "mere addition" problem:
[Adding] children to a family increases the amount of resources that family needs but does not increase the amount of resources available to them. Like the elderly or the disabled, children thus create enormous financial strain that only the welfare state or other non-market distributive mechanisms can offset.
The costs, not only to the families but to all of us, are huge:
In 2017, 158 million Americans lived in families with children. Over 28 million of those people lived below the poverty line, and that's even after counting transfer programs like food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
If these children did not exist, then obviously there would be no child poverty. More interestingly, if they did not exist, then half of the poor adults who currently live in families with children would no longer be poor.
Given that eliminating children is not a realistic option (attractive though it may seem when you step barefoot on a LEGO block in the middle of the night), how about we eliminate child poverty by giving every parent a guaranteed child allowance every month? Ronald Reagan considered the Earned Income Tax Credit one of the greatest anti-poverty programs ever undertaken. By replacing the current hodgepodge of benefits with a simple benefit all parents would receive monthly -- not once a year -- children would receive more consistent support until they're out there earning their own money.
Another issue is what Bruenig calls the "lifecycle income problem," namely that people's prime child-bearing years aren't in sync with their prime earning years.
As workers gain experience, they generally receive promotions and raises that increase their incomes, but much of this money comes too late to help with the punctuated costs of raising children. This mismatch between peak earning years and peak childbearing years drives up inequality and poverty in society.
So how about we transfer wealth from the older to the younger, seeing as how children need the most support when they're the youngest, and become more able to take care of themselves as they get older? And no, telling people to just wait to have kids until they're on a better economic footing, Bruenig says, is "philosophically repugnant":
Economies should be constructed to support human beings in their lives, not the other way around. In this specific case, people should be able to have children when they want to do so based on their own calculations of when they are ready, not be forced to contort their family-formation preferences around an economic order that is hostile to family life.
You know, for kids!
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