By and large, women are not big fans of Donald Trump. Now the Republican US presidential candidate seems to have made a last-ditch effort to stem his losses among female voters with a pair of policy proposals aimed at helping working families. Unfortunately, his plans fall far short of what American families need.
The first part of Trump’s plan would provide up to six weeks of paid leave to all new mothers. While short by global standards, this would be a marked improvement over our current system, where paid leave is only provided at the good grace of individual employers, reaching just 12% of workers in the private sector.
Second, Trump would let families deduct the cost of child and elder care from their taxes. An earlier proposal from Trump would have overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy, so he retooled his plan to cut out the highest earners. He would also create an add-on to the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide an annual childcare rebate worth up to $1,200 to low-income families.
Some credit is due to the Donald. By endorsing any kind of paid leave policy, he has ventured into uncharted GOP territory. While Democrats have pushed for paid leave for years, Republican candidates have overwhelmingly opposed paid leave as an unjustifiable government burden on business. Until Trump, the outer reach of Republican imagination on this issue was a measly tax credit for businesses that voluntarily provide their own paid leave. Trump is the first major GOP candidate to agree that paid leave is a modern economic necessity.
His childcare plans are also a big leap from his past positions. Not even a year ago, Trump’s childcare policy was nothing more than a vague wish that more companies voluntarily provide their own on-site care by getting “one person or two people, and [ ] some blocks and [ ] some swings and some toys.”
Still, Trump’s proposals don’t go nearly far enough. Childcare costs have overtaken the cost of college tuition in 23 states, and reach on average nearly $8,000 a year nationwide. Trump’s rebate for low-income families is a start, but provides relief only once a year to families who are shelling out nearly 40% of their incomes year-round for childcare.
These families would benefit far more from Hillary Clinton’s childcare plan. Clinton would cap any family’s childcare payments at 10% of their income, with government covering the rest through direct subsidies to high-quality care providers.
Clinton’s paid leave plan is also far more generous than Trump’s. While Trump’s plan provides six weeks of paid leave for new mothers only, Clinton would provide 12 weeks of paid leave for each parent to care for a new child or a sick family member.
Clinton’s paid leave plan would also replace most of a worker’s income. She promises to provide a benefit equal to at least two-thirds of a worker’s wages, up to an unspecified ceiling. (Democrats in Congress suggest a maximum benefit of $1,000 per week.) Trump, on the other hand, would cap his paid leave benefit at around $300 per week.
There’s also the issue of commitment. Trump’s newfangled proposals are pretty transparent panders to gin up political support. Clinton, however, has spent her life advocating for women and children, and has made these sorts of policies a centerpiece of her campaigns for years. She has also put family policy experts Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary on her White House transition team, signaling that this will be an immediate policy priority upon taking office.
Interestingly, Trump’s proposal may hint at policy debates yet to come. Trump wouldn’t limit his childcare tax benefits just to families paying for daycare, but rather would subsidize stay-at-home parents, too. This, according to the Trump campaign, provides a “belated recognition by the federal government of the economic value of the work provided by stay-at-home parents.”
Clinton has yet to embrace a similar benefit for stay-at-home parents. Her childcare plan resembles a proposal from the Center of American Progress, which heralds the developmental advantages of center-based care as opposed to home-based care. Yet in her 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton argued for reforming an existing childcare program for low-income families to allow “parents who want to stay at home rather than place their children in child care to receive child care subsidies[.]”
It will be fascinating to see where Clinton lands on this debate now. A childcare subsidy might nudge parents toward the better option for their child’s development and education. But a child allowance that gives families cash with no strings attached would respect parents’ childrearing choices.
In the meantime, it’s refreshing to see an otherwise vapid presidential election stumbling into a discussion of actual policy issues. The moment may be the product of eleventh-hour political calculations. But in 2016, we’ll take what we can get.