City Councilwoman Nury Martinez and Councilman David Ryu have introduced a motion to develop a paid parental leave plan for Los Angeles.
Already, California’s parental and family leave programs offer up to 18 weeks of paid leave, at up to 70% of one’s pay, capped at $1,252 per week. The state programs are funded through mandatory payroll deductions; all employees contribute, not just those who benefit.
Under the proposed city program, L.A. businesses would likely be asked to cover the difference between 70% and 100% of workers’ wages.
When benefits are mandated by governments, it can lead firms to cut back in other ways.
Ryu says this policy is “good for business.” Proponents say it raises productivity, reduces turnover and increases profits.
But if it were truly good for businesses, more of them would offer paid maternity leave without a government mandate. This initiative would put L.A. businesses at a competitive disadvantage, hindering economic development efforts.
Although proponents point to the benefits of having parents at home with newborns, they then brag that parental leave policies raise labor force participation rates. Not everyone would agree that it is a good thing to encourage new parents to stay in the labor force.
When Americans were polled by the Pew Research Center in 2017, they expressed support for paid leave and, it should come as no surprise, a preference that it be paid for by businesses. But that’s not how things work.
Mandated benefits raise the costs of hiring workers. Employers are aware of how much workers contribute to their bottom line. They won’t pay more than that.
When benefits are mandated by governments, it can lead firms to cut back in other ways. Over time, costs imposed on employers by mandated leave will result in reductions in other benefits, such as sick days or dental benefits. We can also expect slower growth in wages.
Finally, higher labor costs could encourage businesses in some sectors of the economy to consider investing in labor-saving technologies, thus leading to a decline in the demand for employees.
These adverse effects won’t be obvious right away, and, by the time they occur, because so many other things are going on, it will be hard to connect any specific negative impacts to the mandated benefit.
To the extent that the initiative discourages businesses from locating in the city, we can expect the city’s tax revenues to fall faster or grow slower than they would otherwise. In some cases, higher business costs are likely to lead to higher consumer prices over time.
Moreover, employers may discriminate against individuals likely to qualify for the benefits. This will make it harder for potential parents to secure employment. And because of the business costs, a proposed exemption for small businesses and nonprofits could exclude about 40% of workers in the city.
Martinez and Ryu say their main concern is about low-income families who choose not to take paid leave because they are not getting full pay. But many programs already exist to assist such households.
State residents are eligible for both the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credit, a renters tax credit, subsidized health insurance, CalFresh (food) and CalWorks (public assistance). The Pew survey found that, of low-income workers nationwide who did not receive full pay while on leave, nearly half reported taking advantage of public assistance.
Of the low-income individuals who are eligible but chose not to take paid leave, some expressed a connection to their jobs and viewed their continued presence at work as the key to promotions and long-run financial stability for their families. They may have extended families who assist in child care. This policy initiative will not change that dynamic.
All in all, this is a feel-good policy. If Angelenos were aware of all the costs of this plan, they would see that it is not in the city’s interest.Shirley Svorny is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Previously she was a professor of economics at California State University.
Since 9/11, a recurrent theme in the far-right circles of America has been “creeping Shariah.” It reflects the fear that Islamic law will silently spread through the land of freedom to ultimately overtake it — to put all women in burqas and all adulterers to death. In this scenario, American Muslims, who make up only 1 percent of the population, will pursue this grand scheme because they are here not for freedom and opportunity, but to form a fifth column in it, as Steve Bannon seriously claimed in 2016.
Those with deeper knowledge of American Muslims, a minority that is much better integrated than some of their counterparts in Europe, can easily see such sordid fantasy as paranoia. Those with some knowledge of American history can also see that this new calumny about Islam has precedents, in the McCarthyism of the Cold War era and the anti-Catholicism of the 19th century.
But here is something even more ironic: When you examine the internal discussions among conservative Muslim leaders or pundits in America today, they don’t come across as concocting some “Protocols of the Elders of Mecca.” Instead of cheering for any creeping Shariah, they seem worried about a creeping liberalism within American Islam.
Far from spreading Shariah, as Islamophobes have suggested, America’s Muslim clerics are focusing on a more familiar trend: youngsters blending into American life.
Read Mikaeel Ahmed Smith, for example. He’s an imam in Virginia who has titled an internet article “A Spiritual Disease in American Muslims, Making Them Gods Above God.” His criticism targets a new genre of Muslim bloggers and writers who he says “challenge or outright reject the traditionally normative Islamic view on social issues and Muslim life.” These young people care less about traditional religious texts, the imam warns, because of “a rejection of any authority other than one’s own intellect.”
Or read Butheina Hamdah, an academic, who sees alarming signs of “liberal individualism” among American Muslim women. She thinks the hijab (the Islamic head scarf) is becoming a mere “cultural marker of identity” while losing its “deeper theological dimensions.” That is why “trendy” or “sexy” versions of the hijab are emerging, she argues, while young Muslim women embrace feminist notions of “bodily autonomy” and “individual choice.”
Perhaps nothing marks this liberal trend more than the skyrocketing acceptance of gay marriage, which, as a 2017 poll showed, is now stronger among American Muslims than among white evangelical Christians. It is also reflected in the pro-L.G.B.T.Q. stance of two new Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. (This month, Ms. Omar took a lesson in how to integrate into America’s pluralist politics when she apologized, after heavy criticism from her own Democratic Party’s leaders, for a tweet that insinuated that American support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group. “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” she said almost immediately, adding, “I unequivocally apologize.”)
There are two distinct lines in this trend toward American values. One is a kind of anything-goes social liberalism, spearheaded by small groups like Muslims for Progressive Values. The other, larger line is a political liberalism that accepts a pluralist framework for society while preserving its own social and moral conservatism. Jonathan Brown, a convert to Islam and scholar of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, theorized the latter approach in a much-discussed article in which he accepted gay marriage of non-Muslims by making an analogy to traditional Muslim empires’ noninterference in what he called “incestuous Zoroastrian marriages.”
Of course, all this is happening within a political context, which Eboo Patel, an interfaith leader, explains in a chapter on “the American ummah” in his book “Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise.”In the wake of 9/11, and especially in the Trump era, Mr. Patel writes, worrying about Islamophobia has required the Muslim community to show that it really fits America. Hence, the center of gravity has shifted from “traditional Muslims,” whose authority derives from knowledge of religious sources, to a new group of media-savvy “social Muslims,” whose strength is interpreting the Muslim experience for the broader society. The interesting twist is that the progressive narrative of the “social Muslims” is having an impact on the whole American Muslim community. “Once you invoke diversity as a value,” Mr. Patel writes, it is hard to deny a place to “gay Muslims, Shia Muslims, non-hijabi female Muslims, less-observant-than-you Muslims.”
The conservatives are understandably worried that this may go too far. For example, Rashid Dar, a thoughtfully committed Muslim academic, fears the prospect of an irreversible transformation in his community. A life of “adhering to political liberalism in the public sphere but social conservatism at home or at the mosque very easily runs the risk of creating severe cognitive dissonance,” he told me. “I used to fear that this might lead to widespread ‘reform Islam’ movements. What I fear now is widespread nihilism and apathy toward faith.”
I think that while this concern is understandable, the opposite may also be true: Young generations may lose the faith if Islam remains too closed to rationality, individuality, tolerance and freedom.
For that reason, I find the American Muslim quandary fascinating — and promising. “Liberalism” as a framework for a free society is painfully lacking in large parts of the Muslim world today. If the Muslim community in the United States, what Mr. Patel called the “American ummah,” can embrace that by reinterpreting its traditions without losing itself, it could contribute to the broader ummah by offering new perspectives and a lived example.
Charles Taylor, one of the most prominent thinkers on religion today, reminds us of a historical precedent in an essay from 2011: In the 19th century, American Catholics were seen by the Protestant majority as “inassimilable to democratic mores, in ways very analogous to the suspicions that nag people over Islam today.” But, Mr. Taylor added, “American Catholicism evolved and, in the process, changed world Catholicism in significant ways.”
A similar transformation took place within American Judaism, as Steven R. Weisman shows in his recent book, “The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion.” Rabbinical authority waned, women became empowered, practices were modernized and Reform Judaism flourished.
To say that change would never happen in Islam would be a view too unfair to this third big Abrahamic religion. It would also underestimate America’s great potential to attract, and also transform, people of all faiths and races under a simple but rare principle — equal justice under the law. Shouldn’t some of those who call themselves “American nationalists” know this better than they seem to know these days?Mustafa Akyol is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute and the author, most recently, of “The Islamic Jesus.”