Elizabeth Hovde is Really Worried We Just Don't Understand How Hard It Is To Be a Parent

Elleanor Chin FacebookTwitter

Concern Trolling Parents, the Working Poor and the Middle Class for our Own Good

Elizabeth Hovde is really concerned that poor taxpayers might have to subsidize the child bearing decisions of those better off. She thinks maybe everyone should just think more carefully about how busy they are, since parenting is really hard and we shouldn’t run to the government to make it all better. She has upped her policy analysis game from snide comments about President Obama and Chipotle to concern trolling John Oliver. ("Concern trolling" is the colloquial description for the tactic used on internet message boards of pointing out flaws or counter arguments to a position in the guise of an ally, while actually undermining the position)

Last June the Oregonian published Elizabeth Hovde’s opinion that paid parental leave would wrongly subsidize people who were making ill-considered choices to parent – in essence, all people who can’t afford to go for weeks or months without pay in order to care for a newborn. My breakdown on BlueOregon of her position is here, but in essence Hovde argued that certain people deserve to have children and others do not, and that mandating paid parental leave would somehow provide a rich incentive for poor or otherwise irresponsible people to reproduce on the backs of “taxpayers.”

Last week the Oregonian once again gave Hovde a platform for her views on work and family policy. This time she argues that while she would be happy with employers voluntarily providing a paid parental leave benefit, a “mandate” would be inappropriate because it would force lower income workers to pay for the reproductive choices of those who are better off. (She offers neither quantitative nor analytic support for this assertion, or even anecdotal explanation, but the tax structure in the United States is arguably configured such that the lower tax brackets already bear more than their share of the burden for most things.) Moreover, Hovde claims mandatory paid parental leave “offers cushions to people before making sure everyone has a chair.”

Advocates for paid parental leave argue that it is a fundamental building block of family policy, promoting stronger parenting, improving parent-infant bonding and increasing both child and maternal health. I’m all for a good analogy, but if paid leave isn’t the “chair”, what is? Hovde hints that paid leave should perhaps be means tested, and limited to families who experienced some unexpected misfortune where one parent backed out on the deal to raise children together. In other words, Hovde’s fundamental view is that reproducing should be limited to those who can save up and time their babies for prudent management within the existing generous benefit scheme “taxpayers” already offer.

But individuals' plans and an expectation of personal responsibility can help ensure families and whole societies better thrive. Do we really want a policy that suggests parenthood is a shared monetary burden that businesses are partly responsible for? I don't.

According to Hovde, the ways in which taxpayers, including childless ones, finance child bearing is in the form of child tax credits and deductions and the costs of K-12 education. Parents should be bowing down in gratitude to “taxpayers” for “six child-free hours a day”. The United States is not precisely leading the pack in the category of free, adequate public education, but Hovde must not see the society-wide benefits to having literate citizens who are sufficiently educated to be productive.

Hovde asserts the “village” is already raising the child and “parenthood is hard” and requires lots of sacrifice. Instead of trying to “make parenting easier” by mandating paid leave, we should examine our values. This is the core of Hovde’s argument. Americans just aren’t grateful enough. We’re not humble and responsible and prudent. Instead we work too many jobs and over-schedule our lives: we wouldn’t need to work so hard if we didn’t buy so much stuff. We are asking the government (and those hard working, deserving “taxpayers”) to make parenting “easy” by “giving” us paid leave.

Has Hovde considered that working class and middle class parents are already taxpayers? The middle class and working poor pay a far greater percentage of their income in taxes than do wealthy citizens, and benefit far less because they work more hours for less money while spending more, not just on childcare and medical coverage, but on basics such as food and shelter. Our taxes are subsidizing tax cuts for the wealthy, endless foreign wars, the health benefits of wealthy members of Congress, oil and gas projects by multi-billion dollar petroleum companies, to name a few things that as a matter of policy are part of society’s “shared financial burden”. Why would it be unfair to allocate some benefits of our common economic scheme to some different “taxpayers” for a change? Parents and employees of businesses (and most people are one or the other if not both) are not just external drains on the system.

What does Hovde mean when she says “rethinking and addressing our American way of life would be useful?” Does she think that a single parent working 40+ hours a week for less than a living wage just needs to revisit how much she spends on rent? (Oregon minimum wage, at $9.25/hr is already higher than the federal, but to afford a two bedroom apartment, a wage earner has to make over $16/hr in Oregon) Or should she and her children be left to their own devices because she should have known better than to have babies at all? Or would that be one of those situations where “one of the parents involved abandons the plan that was made, leaving a family in a lurch.” Would that last scenario mean the caretaking parent was “deserving” if she (or he) could prove that she had been part of a “couple” that made an appropriate, planned choice? What about educated middle class couples who have pay a mortgage and student loans and can’t afford to lose weeks of income? Should they just postpone having babies indefinitely?

Elizabeth Hovde opens and closes her piece with references to the widely circulated John Oliver sketch in which he points out the hypocrisy of celebrating Mother’s Day without providing legal and policy support to motherhood. She wryly concedes that his sketch is humorous but chides him and others for suggesting that the United States should be ashamed of our abysmal parental leave policy. Hovde asserts her principled opposition to paid parental leave, even if businesses could all afford it. But like all good concern trolls, Hovde advances her concerns not as sound critiques of the problem but as condescending attempts to undermine an opposing side’s view.

Why are the people who should be “rethinking our American way of life” only the individuals who are advocating for the basic pro-family policies that exist in the rest of the industrialized world? Why shouldn’t legislators, policy makers, or for that matter wealthy taxpayers be rethinking the national priorities to support parenting and child health? Why is it parental leave is a “gift” or an “extra” while all the myriad other things that we collectively support are the default? There is no natural law that says that tax breaks for the wealthy or large corporations are properly “shared monetary burdens” but parenting is not. Hovde’s arguments rest on the assumption that the status quo is ordained, that business owners and taxpayers are righteous while parents and children are potentially burdensome additions to the natural order. That is the part of the American way of life that we should be challenging and re-imagining.

This post is written on behalf of the Oregon Chapter of the National Organization for Women Working together to make the necessary changes in our society to eliminate sexism and end all oppression.

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