I’m sure all generations can agree that our priorities shift when we have kids. For me, it means an intense scrutiny on safety today and the world our kids will inherit in the future. However, when looking at what to vote for this year, I think it’s important for millennials to be selfish for a moment and think about how one policy change can give us a fighting chance to be an amazing generation of parents, despite the odds stacked heavily against us.
To set the stage, let’s look at the state of millennials today:
- Roughly 50% of millennials have ZERO savings, meaning a simple speeding ticket could send someone into a spiral of debt at predatory interest rates.
- Over 80% of income on average is already going to basic needs like housing, out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, transportation, and food.
- And don’t forget the cherry on top of the clusterfuck ice cream sundae, a cool $1.9 trillion in student debt.
My point is our generation already has some deep systemic issues to tackle (thanks Boomers!), before even starting to think about raising a family.
My wife and I are extremely lucky to live in proximity to our parents, who are also fortunate to have the energy and health to be amazing sources of childcare. And it is still very hard to both pursue careers we care a lot about while also being hyper-present for our 11-month-old daughter. So while I am living through this life stage, I know that many of my peers are facing far greater hurdles and tradeoffs with their time and hard-earned money.
So what am I voting for? I believe the simplest path to supporting this generation of parents is to extend mandatory maternity and paternity leave to working parents, and I’m looking for this on every local and national ballot.
Will that put a dent in growing income inequality and joblessness? I don’t know. But at least it will give parents a chance to think deeply about how to balance each partner’s career with the massive workload of caregiving, and to make a plan.
To give a shoutout to one extraordinary model, my friend at Spotify was given 6 months of paid paternity leave, redeemable in 3 separate chunks until his son’s third birthday. This gave him and his wife a tremendous amount of flexibility to stagger primary caretaker roles and relocate multiple times in the face of a global pandemic. And when you talk to him, you’ll see that this only increased his loyalty and passion for the company. Now, of course Spotify hails from Sweden, where family leave extends up to 16 months, but given that the US literally has the least parent-friendly policies in the entire developed world, I’ll rest my case at 6 months.
As the leader of a company driven by the needs of millenials, I recognize businesses will say “let us handle this, we want to use this as a recruiting benefit,” but I worry deeply that these programs will inevitably get cut by these companies, especially in times of crisis. COVID-19 should make that really clear. Many established companies (and big employers) are on the verge of bankruptcy, parents are having to choose between work and caretaking, and women are stepping away from work at alarming rates. It’s clear the fragile system doesn’t support the modern workforce. Why put people or companies in a position to have to choose?
My point is, with so many critical life decisions to make in a rapidly-changing world, can’t we just take one decision off the table and establish a new standard in the US? If we’re trying to ensure that we have a future as Americans and even human beings, one of the worst things we can do is add friction and disincentivize people from having children, and right now I feel deeply for the people who feel like they have to choose between their career/income and starting a family.
I’m not sure how exactly to build this policy out in a world where an increasing number of people are freelancers and millions are out of work, but we can look to precedents set by pretty much every country in the world for ideas.
I can tell you for sure that we need to get ahead of this, because our generation has another significant challenge ahead: our population is aging. COVID-19 has exposed the glaring limitations of nursing homes, and many of us will likely end up taking care of our parents and grandparents, so family leave becomes even more important. The umbrella term of “family leave” extends paternity/maternity benefits to those taking care of other loved ones, and we would be wise to preempt this as well. Where could we possibly find inspiration for these policies? Again, literally almost everywhere else in the world.
To be clear, this is not intended to dismiss critical topics like gun control, climate change, healthcare, education, and the many other crucial topics that intersect with parenthood and are at stake in this election. My point is, I hope we can be a generation that thinks and acts proactively about the world our kids will inherit, but in order to do so, first we need to be given this chance to think.