Yes, mandatory paid maternal/paternal leave can go too far

It’s time for the #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion hour at Hot Air. This week, we’ll take a look at Gavin Newsom, the new governor of California, and one of his signature policy plans he hopes to put into action very soon. It deals with the idea of mandatory paid maternal leave for new parents. Not only does Newsom want to see the policy apply to both mothers and fathers (at least for the California families that still have one of each), but he wants it to last for six months for each child that’s born.

How is he going to pay for this? And how will businesses deal with losing workers for half a year at a time? Nobody seems to know, but it’s one of those feel-good moments in California politics so they’ll just figure those parts out later. (CBS Sacramento)

Governor Gavin Newsom’s ambitious plan to extend paid parental leave may be gaining new momentum with legislation just introduced at the State Capitol that would make California the first state in the nation to offer parents six months of paid leave…

Lawmakers still do not know how the state will pay to keep parents home longer with their baby, but there is new legislation on the table that aims to make sense of it all.

“There’s a great possibility that the funding is already there it just needs to be reworked in order to fund this bill,” said Parveen Tumber, a lawyer with the California Employment Lawyer’s Association.

That bill, sponsored by the California Lawyers Association, would not just expand the how much time parents can take, it will also offer them job protection. Supporters argue workers are already paying for that.

Newsom’s supporters argue, probably with some merit, that having mom at home for longer makes it easier to stick with breastfeeding and that’s generally considered to be healthier for the baby. That’s fair enough. I would also argue that maternity leave, within reason, is an important benefit to offer working women. After going through nine months of the physical demands of pregnancy, the entire process of going through labor and then having a new infant in your home who ensures you only get a few hours of sleep per night, mom really could use a break.

Having said all of that, it’s definitely possible to carry this policy too far and have it begin generating more problems than it solves. First of all, including paternal leave for the father for a full six months is way over the top. If the family has decided that dad will be the one to stay home and care for the child while mom goes back to work as soon as she’s able, that’s one thing. This plan is something else.

If you are a couple planning a family, that decision carries some costs with it and not all of them are financial. Traditionally, fathers have been back to work quickly while the mother attends to the baby. Keep in mind that dad can’t do breastfeeding unless the parents are using baby bottles and a pump. (And if that’s the case it really doesn’t matter who stays home.) If they want to reverse roles, as I mentioned above, that’s fine too.

But California wants to tell the employers in the state that both of them are going to be gone on paid leave for half a year and they have to guarantee their jobs for them when they return. That’s a massive hit. And this combined maternal/paternal program doubles the number of workers who may be gone for six months at a time. Do you really think that’s not going to have an impact on the state’s economy?

I can see mandating a month off for mom. Possibly even two. And if we want to be fair you could throw in a week for dad so he can be around to help out initially while mom recovers from the delivery. But six months is just hugely excessive and disruptive. Being a parent comes with many important responsibilities. One of those is making sure that you’re going to be able to continue earning a living and providing childcare within those constraints. If you can’t manage that, perhaps you should consider waiting a little while longer before starting your family.