US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is seen Sept. 9 and US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen Sept. 14. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder/Mike Segar, Reuters)
In this election
season, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have proposed significant
policies to help parents. Their proposals share two main features: (1) enhanced
maternity or family leave mandated by federal regulations and subsidized by
federal spending, and (2) assistance with educational and other childcare
expenses via federal spending, tax relief, or both.
For the Catholic
citizen, these proposals have significant promise to provide at least some
appropriate relief to working parents. Nonetheless, both candidates’ proposals
seem at odds with Catholic teaching in various ways.
In evaluating these
family policies, it is well to recall two fundamental and highly relevant
principles: the duty of the parent to the child, and the duty of the broader community
to assist the parent in performing this duty. As to the parental duty, the
Catholic Church teaches that God directly entrusts every child to the custody,
care, and education of his mother and father. As Pope Pius XI explained, “God directly
communicates to the family, in the natural order, fecundity, which is the
principle of life, and hence also the principle of education to life.” Parents
thus have a sacred trust: an inalienable duty and right to raise and educate
For most women and
men, this parental enterprise represents at once the most joyous and most
arduous duties of their lives. From conception, our children place
extraordinary demands on our bodies, our hearts, our money, and especially our
are always limited. Multitasking has its limits, and bilocation is impossible.
None of the saints reported to have this gift were parents.
Choices must be made.
The very time and energy spent in meeting the material needs of the household require
a sacrifice of the time and energy that might be spent on the family’s more
noble, more central taskthe care and education of children.
This parental duty is
not only the parent’s concern. The arduous parental enterprise is critical to
the larger common good. To survive, the community needs new members. Parents
provide these new members. They raise and educate not just new adults, but new
citizens. Therefore social justice requires that the community support the
First and foremost,
social justice requires that marriage be preserved, protected, and honored as
the chief means to unite parents in their joint performance of their duty. Marriage
thus helps secure to the child the fundamental right to the custody, care, and
education of both his mother and his father.
can assist the parental enterprise in many other ways. Most notably, the
community has established and supported schools, staffed by paid third parties,
whose job is to assist parents in education. In addition, government has
offered a variety of benefits to families through regulations, tax breaks, and
presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have proposed
federal policies to help parents, via mandated and paid family leave and
subsidized child care and education. As to family leave, Clinton’s plan would
mandate 12 weeks of paid parental leave subsidized by increased taxation on the
wealthy. Trump’s plan would provide for six weeks of paid leave, to be
subsidized by the unemployment insurance system. As to childcare and education,
Clinton’s plan would use both direct federal spending and tax relief both to
pay for third-party childcare fees and supplement the salaries of early-childhood
educators. Trump proposes, instead, to use tax exemptions, deductions, and
rebates to enable parents to more easily pay for childcare and after-school
programs. Most notably, Trump’s plan, unlike Clinton’s, provides relief to
parents who, as to childcare, choose to forego the income provided by
participating in markets and instead stay home and care for their children
differences, both candidates’ plans provide obvious benefits to parents.
Mandated and subsidized family leave gives working parents a short time both to
recover from childbirth and to care for a newbornthat is, to engage in some
measure of personal childcarebut without significantly impairing their
participation in acquisition by labor, commerce, etc. Subsidized childcare and
education can significantly ease the burdens on parents’ time and money.
In addition, the
proposals, for the most part, set forth an equitable basis for distributing the
costs of this parental assistance. Since the parental enterprise serves the
common good, it makes sense that the broader community should bear the burden
of supporting it. Therefore, for instance, it would not seem just to place the
burden of assisting a parent primarily or even exclusively on the parent’s employer.
Rather, the whole community should provide the assistance, whether by a broad
system of mandated unemployment insurance, tax relief, or governmental
Still, in some
critical respects, both Trump’s and Clinton’s policies would seem to run afoul
of principles of Catholic teachingand social justice in particular. To mandate
paid maternity leave, whether for six weeks (Trump) or 12 (Clinton), seems
inconsistent with principles of both subsidiarity and equity. A one-size-fits-all mandate, imposed on
businesses of all sizes, in all sectors, and in all regions, seems recklessly
indifferent to the need to allow smaller communities, whether state or local,
whether public and private, to adopt measures more suited to their local needs
and conditions. Further, these mandates would involve a variety of
administrative and other expenses on businessesburdens that will effectively
disadvantage smaller businesses.
mandate would place direct and disproportionate burdens on the parents’
coworkers. Such burdens would prompt resentments that would be understandable
if not justifiable. Why, after all, should anyone be forced to become an
adjunct to someone else’s family? If indeed the whole community has an interest
in the flourishing of the child, why should this burden fall so peculiarly on a
parent’s immediate co-workers?
childcare proposals seem even more problematic, but in different respects. Trump’s
proposal, by relying on tax deductions and rebates, would seem neglectful of the
needs of the poor. Although such rebates will help those who pay insufficient
tax to benefit from deductions, such rebates require the poor to pay up front
for the childcare and/or to forego employment by staying at home, and then wait
until the end of the tax year to receive the rebate. Poorer parents frequently
need much more timely assistance. Clinton’s plan, in contrast, provides a
speedier remedy via direct governmental spending.
But in another
respect, Clinton’s plan seems worse: it would undermine the authority of all
parents, and especially poor parents, to use their judgment in determining how
to raise their children. Trump’s plan
would make the deductions and rebates available to all parents, including those
staying at home or otherwise foregoing the labor market in favor of caring for
their own children. But Clinton’s plan would support only one choice: the use
of third-party childcare at governmentally-sanctioned facilities. To use
general taxation to support only one kind of parental choice would seem
radically inconsistent with principles of subsidiarity and parental authority. Such
an approach would impose substantial economic pressurespressures to which
poorer parents are most susceptible.
peculiar choice privileged by Clinton’s plan would seem, at the very least,
unfriendly to Catholic teaching. Pressuring parents to rely on third-party
caretakers both increases the separation of parents from children and wrongly
prioritizes parental acquisitive activities over parental educational ones. It
would be better, if possible, for children to stay closer to their own parents.
And it would be nobler for parents to engage in the education of children
rather than engage in the subordinate activity of commerce.
third-party facilities to which parents are to send their children will
probably be secular and irreligious. Under current interpretations of our
Constitution, the federal government would be forbidden to provide direct
monetary support to any Catholic or religious school. But parents have the most
solemn duty to raise their children to know, love, and serve God. They should
not be pressured to surrender their children to early-childhood education that
different and varying degrees, the family policies proposed by the two major
presidential candidates do not seem consistent with Catholic teaching. Whether
by inequitable distribution of burdens, neglect of the needs of the poor, or
disregard for the right of parents to direct the care and education of their
childrenthe proposals of both Trump and Clinton are unworthy of the Catholic
Regardless of the
results of the election, however, family policy will almost certainly remain on
the nation’s political agenda. Catholic citizens should be prepared to consider
all proposals with discernment and critical evaluationand even better, to set
forth new proposals that are consistent with the rights of parents and the
broader common good.