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Are family-oriented work policies bad for business?
A new take on the state of paid leave calls into question the benefits of family-friendly policies at work. - photo by JJ Feinauer
The rise of mandatory paid leave for both men and women who have children has been meteoric, according to The New Republic's Lauren Sandler.

In a new essay for The New Republic, Sandler chronicles what she calls paid leave's transformation "from progressive pipe dream to political reality."

"Paid leave is no longer just a womans issue. It cannot be," she wrote. "As we have begun to rely on women as earners, so too have men become more important as fathers." It's that economic transformation, Sandler argues, that has paved the way for more family-friendly policies, such as paid maternity and paternity leave, to become part fo the mainstream policy agenda for 2016 presidential candidates.

But the dream of better legislated work-life balance isn't without its kinks. According to The Upshot's Claire Cain Miller, laws aiming to ease the financial burden of parenthood might have unintended consequences.

"They can end up discouraging employers from hiring women in the first place," Miller wrote after listing some of the ramifications mandatory paid leave laws have had in Europe.

According to Miller, the discouragement comes from "fear women will leave for long periods or use expensive benefits."

Miller points out that in Chile, child care laws that were intended to increase the amount of women in the workforce also led to lower salaries on average for female employees.

"That was thought to be a provision to help them participate in the labor force and achieve more work-family balance, and its doing the opposite, Mara F. Prada, an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, told Miller.

That's why Miller suggests that legislators approach the issue from varying angles, hoping to find the solution with the lowest degree of potential unintended consequences.

But while Miller seems uninterested in suggesting that paid maternity leave would actually be a mistake (one solution, she says, is to make it a policy offered equally to men and women), there are those that think the possible economic consequences of family-centric legislation could be too much for employers and employees to handle.

"A regulatory leave mandate isn't a terrible idea, per se, but it's likely to land the nation in a rut from which it's difficult to escape and that prevents us from ascending to where we really need to go," Vox's Matthew Yglesias wrote in February.

According to Yglesias, the ultimate goal should be "a properly funded universal government social insurance program to support new parents," and putting added pressures on employers by mandating paid leave could have the reverse effect. In fact, it's those who are already most vulnerable namely, those in low-income jobs who feel the negative effects most, because those are the workers with the least "bargaining power."

"What America really needs is to bite the bullet and recognize that parental leave is a social responsibility, not an employer-specific one," Yglesias concluded. "It should be run like unemployment insurance or social security, with everyone paying into the system with taxes that finance a universal benefits scheme."

Either way, the idea of paid leave is extremely popular politically. According to a report by the Washington Post from January, 73 percent of Americans want paid leave "for themselves or family members."
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