Table of Contents:
Generous Public Investment in External Care Programs for Young Children
When children are ready for daycare and prekindergarten, assigning young families responsibility to purchase it through the market results in a profound underinvestment in children’s development. This is because high-quality daycare is beyond the financial reach of most young parents (Child Care Aware (CCA) of America 2016, 36-37). The state should correct this through generously subsidizing both daycare and prekindergarten. With such investment, the state could ensure that all children have access to high-quality programs, either completely subsidized for all parents or available for a sliding-scale fee. Public investment wouldn’t mean that the state would need to provide this daycare itself, just that it would pay for these services.
Limiting Economic Inequality and Insecurity
The state also has an important role to play in limiting economic inequality in order to support families. It’s not just poverty that has a corrosive effect on families, it’s also inequality. At the bottom of the economic slope, economic inequality keeps adults from entering into stable, longterm relationships. The stress it creates reduces the quality of parents’ caretaking for their children. All across the economic slope, it creates an overamped competition for success in the market that induces workers to work long hours and saps vital energy from other spheres of life. Government regulation of the market can and should reduce the steepness of this slope.
In the United States today, reversing this inequality should start with raising the minimum wage significantly, as well as indexing it to inflation to prevent its benefits from being eroded in future years. We also need a tax system that puts more of the burden on the wealthy. Increasing marginal tax rates on the very rich not only reduces the tax burden on low- and middle-income workers, it helps reduce inequality, both by constraining accumulation by the wealthiest households and by reducing incentives on CEOs and hedge-fund managers to draw the highest salaries that they can. High marginal tax rates at the upper end of the income spectrum also reduce workers’ incentive to spend long hours in the workplace to compete for disproportionate rewards and therefore discourage the kind of race to the bottom we see at the high end of work hours today. Further, we need to strengthen the hand of unions to bargain collectively for higher wages for workers.
Many of these policies are currently used in wealthy European democracies to support families and could serve as models. A number of these countries have mandatory minimum wages set at a relatively high percentage of the median wage of workers and far higher than current U.S. minimum wage (OCED 2018). These countries have empowered unions in ways that have lifted workers’ wages and working conditions. In countries like Sweden that have allowed unions to run unemployment insurance systems, union membership has risen dramatically (Western 1997, 58). Other countries extend the collective bargaining agreements negotiated between an employer and a union to the entire sector of workers, so that all workers are covered by the agreement (Eurofound 2015, 27).
To serve their function of getting goods and services into the hands of the families who want them, employers need to have sufficient flexibility to respond to market signals. That means that some jobs inevitably will be phased out as demand weakens, while others will be phased in as demand increases. Of course, the fact that a new worker somewhere will likely be hired doesn’t help a worker’s family that is suffering from a layoff. Pro-family policy allows this market restructuring, while still meeting workers’ and their families’ need for steady material provision. To serve both ends, rather than attempting to provide families’ security through workers’ attachment to individual jobs, pro-family policy seeks to build the economic stability that families need into the broader economic system.
Sweden and Denmark have both adopted programs that accomplish this, often called “flexicurity” to emphasize their combined goals of employer flexibility and worker security. These programs combine flexible rules that make it easy for the employers to hire and fire workers based on market demand. At the same time, employees who are laid off can get unemployment benefits for significant periods of time. Flexicurity policies also help displaced workers find new job opportunities (OECD 2016, 135). To do so, significant public funds are spent on retraining programs and providing incentives to private employers
(OECD 2017). Under pro-family policy, all market societies would adopt such measures.
Building more security into the larger economic system would not only ease families’ burdens when market dislocations occur, they would make family life easier in the normal course of affairs. Reducing economic insecurity would lessen the incentives for anxious employees to work excessively long hours in order to keep their jobs. It would therefore allow workers to get home sooner at the end of the day, as well as have more time for leisure and other pursuits. And when workers are home with their families, it would allow them to focus on their partners and children, rather than worrying about whether they will be able to pay their bills in the upcoming months.