Most system would require higher taxes, employee-friendly legislation,

Most people would agree that no woman – or any adult for that matter – should be forced to choose between a career and parenthood. Procreation is a private decision and the foundation of the family, but also a societal good. With no children being born the human race would simply cease to exist. Societies need to acknowledge this basic fact and make provisions for it.In Sweden, the home of social engineering and gender equality, this has been a long-established truth. The Swedish solution to day care for working parents, which has evolved over the past decades, includes a guaranteed place at a public preschool for each child. Parents are charged a maximum of three per cent of their salary with a cap set at $200 a month per family. The remaining costs are covered by the state, which subsidizes the preschool services – public and private – with approx. $9bn a year, more than the cost of the national defence. This comes on top of extensive paid parental leave (up to 16 months for a newborn), a government-funded and non-income based monthly child allowances, and paid sick-leave for parents nursing a sick child at home (120 days per child per year). Other developed countries, like Denmark and France, have similar programs in place.This is how a family-friendly society with affordable childcare looks in practice.It is easy to see why this is a model that does not work for America at present. Here, where family values are loudly touted, but private and corporate greed reigns supreme, the average cost of center-based childcare is $1.000 a month and $2.000 for a nanny. To change the system would require higher taxes, employee-friendly legislation, trust in the quality of public services, and a social ethos that comprises rich and poor alike. None of this will happen anytime soon. And to judge by the nation’s recent political choices, this is definitely not the kind of society Americans want.As so often, we see the short-term costs but not the long-term gains. Costly family-friendly policies will hurt businesses is the mantra. But Sweden, Denmark, and France are not doing badly financially. Their corporations and employers are able to find ways of being profitable also within a family-friendly social system.There are reasons for this. Betsey Stevenson, a former member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, observes that “studies that have examined the effects of paid sick leave estimate these policies would increase businesses profitability, by improving productivity, and reducing turnover and absenteeism.”When mothers – because it is almost always the mother – are forced to leave the workplace for parenting, society suffers brain-drain. This is particularly damaging, since women tend to be more well-educated than men these days.American companies appear to agree. Google recently announced an increase in parental leave for their employees, and studies suggest that the stock market tend to view such initiatives favorably.While the short-term costs are easy to see, the long-term gains require more reflection. But is it really so hard to crack this nut? Why not begin by asking ourselves what kind of society we want to live in. Do we want to use our public finances for military expenditures, law enforcement, and the penitential system – kill, protect, and punish – or do we want to create a gentler and more happy place by subsidizing working parents?

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