Economy

Paul Ryan Wants To Preserve His Work/Family Balance While Making It Harder For Poor Parents

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) arriving for a House Republican conference meeting

After Republicans in the House have spent weeks scrambling to find a new speaker to unite behind, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is finally saying he might run, but under a number of conditions. One of those conditions is that the time he currently spends with his wife and children be preserved even if he assumes a more demanding job. “I cannot and will not give up my family time,” he said.

Ryan has three young children who live in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin with his wife Janna Ryan, and he travels back every weekend to spend time with them. By continuing this tradition, he may have to forego some speaker duties, like traveling the country to raise money for the party. His demands may do a credit to parents across the country by making visible the challenge of juggling jobs and children.

But while Ryan seeks to preserve his own balance between his work and his family, he’s pushed policies that would make doing so more difficult for others, particularly poor parents.

Ryan has put forth a number of budgets and policy proposals that call for deep spending cuts. Some of those cuts take aim at an important tool for poor parents: child care subsidies. The sky-high cost of child care in the U.S. can dwarf a parent’s income, particularly a low-income parent. Child care subsidies help defray that cost, allowing a parent to find a place to leave their children while going to work and knowing that they don’t have to rely on family members or unsafe, unstable arrangements. Without them, however, poor parents can face a tough choice between continuing to work and simply staying home because the cost is too high.

At the same time, however, he’s often said that more poor people need to be in the workforce and combat what he sees as a “culture problem” where they don’t value work. He has often cited the welfare reform enacted in the 1990s as a model of success. But by imposing incredibly strict work requirements in the name of forcing more poor people to work, the changes ensured that people who rely on cash benefits, mostly poor, single mothers, have had to hunt down any kind of job to stay enrolled. That can quickly eat into their work/family balance and take them away from time they may have spent raising their children. Today, any poor mother who needs welfare but also wishes to spend time at home raising her children will find it tough to do so.

Ryan is fortunate to have a job where he has the power to demand time to go home and be with his children. But for the rest of the country, no one is guaranteed paid time off for illness, holidays, vacation, or the arrival of a new child. Even the weekend he uses to be with his family is not uniformly protected by law. Without paid family leave, many mothers end up back at work just weeks after giving birth. Without paid sick leave, parents can’t take time away from their jobs to care for their children if they get sick.

Ryan’s statements are noteworthy for making explicit the conflict that can arise between work and family and for a father taking a stand to keep his job from cutting into the time he spends parenting. That burden still usually falls on women. More than 40 percent of mothers have cut back on work to care for family and 39 percent have taken a significant amount of time off; just 28 and 24 percent of fathers, respectively, have done the same.

Ryan is also lucky to be a man making these demands. Far more women than men say being a working parent has made it harder to advance in their careers. That’s because women are seen as less competent and committed as soon as they become mothers. Fathers, on the other hand, get rewarded.