Media Blast Marco Rubio's Paid Family Leave Proposal As Unlikely To Broaden Access

After Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced his plan for encouraging companies to provide paid family leave, several media outlets promptly pointed out that the proposal “wouldn't do much” to increase access to paid family leave and “may only help the well-off,” not “low-wage workers who need it most to survive financially.”

Marco Rubio Announces Paid Family Leave Plan

CNN: Rubio Proposes Tax Credit For Employers Who Offer Paid Family Leave. Speaking at the Value Voters Summit on September 25, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio announced his plan to offer tax credits to businesses that offer their employees paid family leave:

Rubio's proposal will use tax credits to incentivize companies to offer at least four weeks of paid leave. According to Rubio's plan, the tax credits could incentivize paid leave of up to 12 weeks or $4,000.

In a fact sheet for the plan shared with CNN, the Florida Republican took a shot at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and the left's call for mandated paid leave -- saying that his tax credit plan is more workable.

“They say the only way to solve this problem is to raise taxes, grow government, and place crippling requirements on private companies,” Rubio will say, per his prepared remarks, referencing Obamacare. “I believe we can fix this problem by creatively applying our free enterprise principles in a way that encourages businesses to choose to offer more paid family leave.” [CNN, 9/25/15]

Media Point Out That Rubio's Plan Would Do Little To Broaden Access To Paid Family Leave

NY Times: Rubio's Tax Credits Would Be Unlikely To Change The Behavior Of Companies That Don't Already Offer Paid Family Leave. The New York Times' Claire Cain Miller explained that Rubio's plan is vulnerable to criticism because it is “unlikely to encourage employers who don't already voluntarily offer paid leave to do so,” and while the government already offers similar incentives designed to influence company policy, “there is little evidence that these tax credits significantly change employers' behavior” :

His plan would provide a 25 percent tax credit to employers who voluntarily offer at least four weeks of paid family leave, limited to 12 weeks and $4,000 per employee each year. So if someone made $1,000 a week, a company paying for that worker's 12-week leave would get back 25 percent of $12,000, or $3,000. The plan would apply to full-time and part-time workers and new parents, military families and those taking care of sick children, spouses or parents.

[...]

Mr. Rubio said he does not think paid leave should be federally legislated; he said it would be expensive and burdensome for businesses and taxpayers.

But critics of his tax credit plan say it's unlikely to encourage employers who don't already voluntarily offer paid leave to do so. Educated, highly paid workers are significantly more likely to work for companies that offer it. Less educated, low-income and hourly workers tend not to receive that benefit.

“My fear is this would continue, if not exacerbate, the problem we already have,” said Sarah Jane Glynn, director for women's economic policy at the Center for American Progress. “It might just provide a small tax credit for the Googles and Netflixes and places that are already doing this, and isn't going to do anything to help folks who don't have it already.”

The government offers tax credits to encourage companies to do other things, like hiring veterans or people with disabilities and offering on-site child care. But there is little evidence that these credits significantly change employers' behavior. Employer-sponsored child care is still extremely rare, for instance, and a subsidy for firms that hire various disadvantaged workers has been found to have little effect on their employment. [The New York Times, 9/28/15]

Huffington Post: “Rubio's Paid Leave Plan Wouldn't Do Much To Encourage Broader Access To Paid Family Leave. The Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn skewered Rubio's plan in a September 25 column, writing that employers rarely “provide a new benefit just because they can get a very small tax credit for it. It's just not how they do business.” According Sarah Glynn, director of women's policy at the Center for American Progress, Rubio's plan would only provide a small incentive for companies to adopt family leave policies, offering only “a small carrot -- a baby carrot” :

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Friday hailed the importance of paid family and medical leave. Then he offered a proposal that would do very little to make it more available.

[...]

“It's just not a lot of money,” Elaine Maag, a senior research associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, told The Huffington Post. “People who don't have access to paid leave now, their employers are not typically ready to jump in and provide a new benefit just because they can get a very small tax credit for it. It's just not how they do business.”

Sarah Glynn, director of women's policy at the Center for American Progress, likened the incentive in Rubio's plan to a “small carrot -- a baby carrot. ... There may be a tiny amount of movement. It might push firms moving in this direction already. But my suspicion is that mostly it's going to be a nice credit for companies that already have these policies in place.”

Maag, Glynn and other experts noted that the tax code already contains some small incentives designed to affect firm behavior -- specifically, to encourage hiring of welfare beneficiaries and people with disabilities. A Tax Policy Center report on those tax breaks concluded that “the programs are vastly underutilized and have not had a meaningful effect on employment rates among the disadvantaged.” [Huffington Post, 9/27/15]

ThinkProgress: Rubio's “Family Leave Plan May Only Help The Well-Off,Not “The Low-Wage Workers Who Need It Most To Survive Financially.” ThinkProgress' Bryce Covert explained that since the widely-known benefits of paid family leave “have not yet been enough to encourage a widespread adoption,” Rubio's plan “may not be enough to encourage all employers to offer family leave, which could worsen that divide between high-earning employees who get paid time off and the low-wage workers who need it most to survive financially” :

But businesses are likely already aware of the benefits of offering paid family leave when it comes to employee retention. Those concrete benefits have not been enough to encourage a widespread adoption. Only 12 percent of American workers has access to the benefit at work. Just over a quarter of businesses say they offer it, a number that has barely budged over the last five years.

And there is a sharp income divide. Just 5 percent of the lowest-paid 25 percent of workers gets paid family leave, compared to 21 percent among the top 25 percent. All of the 30 top-rated companies for working mothers offer paid maternity leave and 90 percent offer paid paternity leave, but the benefits haven't flowed further down the ladder to those who don't work in white collar environments that offer generous benefits.

A tax credit may not be enough to encourage all employers to offer family leave, which could worsen that divide between high-earning employees who get paid time off and the low-wage workers who need it most to survive financially. That's why Democratic candidates have endorsed a paid family leave mandate for the entire country. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley all support 12 weeks of paid leave, paid for through an insurance-like system that collects payroll tax contributions from employees. Those plans mirror one proposed by Democrats in Congress, which would require a 0.2 percent contribution from employees and not require employers to pay employees on leave themselves. [ThinkProgress, 9/25/15]