- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

Second of two parts

America’s society is — and always has been — completely dependent “on both the quantity and quality of other people’s children,” say Phillip Longman and David Gray, who study work and family issues at the New America Foundation think tank.

But the old “social contract” appears to have expired, and it’s time for a new, “family-based” social contract, they say.

The new contract will revive tangible appreciation for parents and workers in the “nurturing sector” of the economy because they are the ones who do the invaluable work of creating, raising and molding the next generation.

Under the expired contract, the American family was presumed to be essential but self-perpetuating, Mr. Longman and Mr. Gray explain in their report, “A Family-Based Social Contract.”

Men and women married and stayed together until death. Children “appeared” because birth control was ineffective, and once born, they were viewed as assets, both for their energetic labor and for their future support for elderly family members.

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Today, marriage is something to delay — or avoid — and if it is achieved, with easy divorce, it may not last. Worst of all, children are no longer viewed as assets; they are million-dollar “liabilities.”

As a result of these and other cultural sea changes, “maintaining the family has become profoundly problematic, not just for individuals, but for society as a whole,” the men wrote.

Parents, of course, have never been paid for their childbearing and child-rearing efforts. But in today’s two-income-based economy, families often are severely penalized if a parent stays home to care for the children.

Having a big family seems like economic suicide.

Even “nurturing” professions are at the low end of pay scales — family physicians and pediatricians earn less than geriatricians and surgeons. Preschool teachers earn less than floor sanders or tree trimmers, Mr. Longman and Mr. Gray wrote.

Why worry about changing any of this? Because both economic and national security depend “on families raising healthy, well-educated, patriotic children,” Mr. Longman and Mr. Gray write. Thus, a prudent, just and wise society will help its young people marry and encourage them to have the children they want to have while they are still young.

Under a new pro-family social contract, they say:

• Employers would eagerly welcome wives (or husbands) who have taken a break to raise their children. “For this new Millennial generation of women, this [issue] is front and center,” Mr. Longman told me recently.

• Universities would eagerly welcome students who are married parents.

• Nurturing professions would have higher compensation, so they can attract and keep their trained and talented workers.

• Home-based businesses would be incentivized. Such businesses can “restore the economic basis of the family,” Mr. Longman said, adding that a key element for success will be affordable health care options for part-time and self-employed workers.

• Stay-at-home parents raising their children would receive a child-care credit.

• Parents raising children younger than 18 would have lower Social Security taxes taken out of their paychecks, but their future Social Security checks would reflect full contributions.

Mr. Longman and Mr. Gray know it’s an uphill challenge to promote pro-family policy. The status quo “has benefited both business and government in a self-reinforcing cycle,” they write. Plus, there are anti-child biases in the media and culture, and among environmentalists who don’t understand six young adults living “Friends”-style yield bigger carbon footprints than a married couple with four children.

“The next social contract must recognize both the changing nature of families, and the increasing dependency of all Americans on the investments parents and other nurturers make in the well-being of the next generation,” these “pragmatic progressives” write. Otherwise, America itself is “living beyond its means.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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