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Marco Rubio's Parental Leave Plan: Good for the Working Class and Good for the Nation

baby, parent

Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) introduced the Economic Security for New Parents Act, a fiscally-responsible paid-parental-leave plan that is good not only for working-class families but for the nation as a whole.

In the Rubio bill, parents of newborn babies or newly-adopted children are given the option of drawing upon Social Security to take parental leave for two months or more. Parents taking the option would delay the date at which they begin receiving Social Security benefits by three months or more.

Some progressives, desperate to kill a Republican bill that will reap enormous benefits for American workers, have called the bill a "sorry attempt" that is "absolutely wrong" and is "a threat to economic security."

On the contrary, however, the Rubio bill will benefit not only working class Americans and their families, but also the businesses that employ them and society as a whole.

The Rubio plan is vital for the mental and physical health of our babies. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health and McGill University demonstrate that additional weeks of paid parental leave are correlated with a significant drop in the infant mortality rate. Prominent psychotherapists have shown that positive early attachment experiences with primary caregivers enhance a child's ability to think, experience emotion, and form self-identity; and that such a relationship also generally leads to happy and satisfying experiences in future relationships and activities.

Similarly, paid parental leave is associated with enhanced mental, physical, and economic wellbeing for new parents. Given that mothers are either the sole or primary income provider for 40% of all American households with children under the age of 18, it is especially important to note that maternal leave improves a mother's physical health, decreases the odds of developing depression, and strengthens the likelihood she will return to the labor force. Similarly, fathers who take at least two weeks of parental leave are more likely to be meaningfully involved in their children's lives on an ongoing basis.

What is good for the child and good for the parent is likewise good for the family unit as a whole. Our rapidly-shifting economy can cause social and financial instability at a level unmatched in recent American history. The birth of a baby can precipitate a young family's slide into significant debt and, in some cases, life-long dependence on welfare. The Rubio plan increases the odds a young family can maintain social and financial instability.

The family is the most basic unit of society. As the first institution to appear in history, it is more fundamental than society's other institutions and the most in need of protection. Strong families are crucial for the formation of neighborhoods, cities, and ultimately nation-states. The strength and health of families is the surest indicator of whether society itself will flourish. In strengthening the family, parental leave plans such as Rubio's strengthen society at large.

Finally, the Economic Security for New Parents Act benefits not only low-income workers and persons of color, but also the businesses who employ them. Progressives desperate to kill the Rubio plan have argued that it will undercut the working class in general and minority workers in particular. But exactly the opposite is true. Given statistics on the paltry number of low income workers who currently have access to paid family leave and that the relatively high number of black and Latina children whose mothers are the sole wage earners of the family, the brilliance of the Rubio plan is that it not only provides them with paid parental leave, but is likely to positively impact the businesses that employ them.

Because of these family-strengthening benefits, the Rubio plan has been endorsed not only by social and religious groups such as the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) and the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), but also by the vast majority of Americans.

Competing solutions have been offered, but they do not serve American workers as well as the Rubio plan. Solutions that do not include paid paternal leave exacerbate the social insecurity young families experience by denying this reasonable measure of protection. Others, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-New York) FAMILY Act, which creates a new entitlement, weakens young families by raising their taxes, and leaves them with less money when they retire.

Family-friendly Democrats in Congress eschew partisan grandstanding and evaluate this bill on the basis of its considerable merits. Sen. Rubio's legislation strengthens America's families—especially low-income workers, women, and persons of color—while at the same time strengthening the businesses that employ them and guarding the health of society.

Bruce Riley Ashford is Provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is Letters to an American Christian. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford and Facebook

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