If you hadn’t noticed, we working parents are going through a lot right now with school starting back. Even those who are fortunate enough to have jobs that can be done remotely know that working full-time while simultaneously managing any kind of meaningful day-to-day existence for kids, let alone a structured school day, is too much for our system to ask of any person. That’s not to say that there aren’t folks who are capable of doing this. There are plenty of parents who already run themselves into the ground to make ends meet.
The point is they shouldn’t need to.
It’s unacceptable that we’re putting so much pressure on families to absorb this pandemic’s impact on commerce. That people are having to choose between keeping their kids healthy and earning money to provide for them should show us how gravely mismatched our country’s collective political will is as an instrument for the compassion most of us claim to share for our fellow human beings.
Moreover, that we’re putting so much pressure on teachers and support staff at schools to free up parents for nonessential work lays bare a long-ignored elephant in our classrooms: we have let the ruthless quest for corporate profits use us as surrogates to appropriate our own public education system and use it as a corral to prevent the responsibilities of parenting from interfering with workplace productivity.
It’s a simple matter of give and take. The more parents have to parent, the less we can be relied on for work and vice versa. If you’ll notice, however, most of the solutions our public officials are hyping up seem to be anchored to the presumption that the work part of that equation is a nonnegotiable item, even though it’s not really — not in most cases. That miscalculation is leading to lots of unnecessary chaos that undermines the credibility of our public schools and which ultimately will result in poor outcomes for kids.
Distributed learning is not some exotic, technological dark art. It has its fair share of challenges and idiosyncrasies, but it’s something that has been around for decades. It’s effective, it’s equitable, and it scales.
The convoluted fiasco playing out in school districts all around our country is a direct result of trying to conjure up a remote learning arrangement for children that doesn’t require genuine adult engagement and face-to-face interaction.
That, my friends, is not doable. We can throw the best teachers with all the iPads and Chromebooks in the world at that plan and it will fail every time. In our hearts we know it, and we’re doing a disservice to our kids every day that we try to pretend it won’t.
Expecting our parents, teachers, and support staff to solve this problem is like taking the contrived concept of grit — which prescribes perseverance as an antidote for systemic inequity — and applying it to entire school districts, many of which are hobbling into this crisis after weathering years of policies aimed at dismantling public education.
The solution here is simple: work can wait.
Businesses should be able to grant fully-paid leaves of absence to any parents or caretakers who need them during this time. These folks deserve to stay home and focus on their families without worrying about their paychecks or healthcare.
Yes, that’s going to cost employers a lot of money.
How on earth can businesses afford to pay for something like that? The same way the rest of us regular working stiffs pay for an exorbitantly expensive unforeseen emergency: by financing it.
That’s right, bosses. Get on the EZPay plan.
Why should businesses take on the debt when it’s their employees who need relief?
For starters, that’s the decent thing to do. It’s kind of unbelievable that this actually needs to be pointed out. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. The unyielding imperative for productivity, growth, and ROI can wait for a hot minute if it helps prevent unnecessary death and illness.
It’s not just a moral issue though. It’s about economy. That’s economy with a lowercase E — as in the careful management of available resources. The average corporation, assuming it’s solvent, has access to much better financial levers than the folks they employ do. Using those levers to finance temporary leaves of absence not only helps lighten the load on hardworking parents who need them. It also helps transform a widespread public health risk into a comparatively contained financial risk. Considering the extreme concentration of wealth in our economy, that’s going to be a much easier risk to monitor and control than millions of workers and their kids are.
For the majority of businesses who can’t afford to pay for leaves out of pocket, the financing helps them spread out the cost of this investment over several years; and since businesses can write off the interest on the loans they take out, this approach also lets them offset the overall cost through reduced tax burdens while they’re paying it back.
Interest on personal debts isn’t deductible like that, by the way.
To put that in perspective, if one of the estimated 15 million single moms in our country gets laid off from her job and is lucky enough to have a credit card to pay for rent and groceries, she can’t deduct the interest on that credit card debt, but if the corporation that laid her off takes out a loan and uses that money to stay afloat during a temporary period of decreased revenue, they get to deduct that interest.
Doesn’t exactly seem all that fair to mom, does it?
For years, corporations have benefited from favorable tax policies and preferential treatment in our economy. The concept of highest and best use applies to a corporation’s tax advantages and creditworthiness too, right? ;-)
The wealth hoarders in our country need to pony up.
Of course, for corporations who don’t want to offer fully paid leaves of absence, here’s another option:
Provide generous hazard pay to parents in the form of company equity. If workers are putting their health and their kids’ health at risk to protect a company’s profitability, it’s fair to say they have more skin in the game than any absentee shareholders do.
There’s also a third option, but the bosses probably aren’t going to like it. We have around 83 million families in the US. Maybe we should just all go on strike and see how long it takes for the wealth hoarders and politicians to find their checkbooks.