This week newly elected D.C. city council members, David Grosso and Elissa Silverman, proposed what they take to be a model of progressive legislation, a mandatory 16 week paid leave for maternity, paternity, transexual surgery, death of a parent, returning from military service, and other major life events believed to make returning to work difficult.
The program would be paid for by a new tax on employment, a new local FICA-like tax, which proponents claim will be less than 1 percent. As Silverman notes, extensive government imposed paid leave is on President Obama’s wish list for a transformed and government controlled America.
In its favorable coverage The Washington Post quotes Silverman as arguing that the law would strengthen D.C.’s local economy: “D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman said paid family leave would make the District more competitive regionally by making it easier for women to reenter the workforce. ‘There is a big problem with keeping women in the workplace and making it feel like you can come back.’”
Silverman lacks a grasp of economics of course. When companies want to retain specific employees, including new moms, they offer these benefits already.
Or perhaps Silverman’s statements aren’t as straight forward as they appear.
Grosso and Silverman, both white, were technically elected to the city council as Independents, kind of the D.C. equivalents of Senator Bernie Sanders, particularly in Silverman’s case. Each found it convenient to run as an Independent rather than as a Democrat because of D.C.’s local idiosyncratic election laws, where at least one city council seat must be held by someone not in whatever party (i.e., in D.C., the Democrats) is in the majority.
Grosso is obviously a Democrat, having served for years as a staffer to D.C.’s Democratic Delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, simply using the election law loophole to more easily be elected.
While the hippie-ish Grosso, with a mane of long wavy brown hair, rode the popular movement to decriminalize marijuana in the District to his electoral victory, Silverman is more of an old line socialist, who will adopt any guise that will get her into power.
In 2013 she ran as a Democrat in a crowded field, with her surrogates challenging the petition signatures of other left-leaning candidates to eliminate them from the ballot. But Silverman lost, with 28 percent of the vote, to a more establishment Democrat, Anita Bonds, who was part of the city’s older African American establishment, dating back to when Bonds ran Marion Barry’s first campaign in 1971, the city’s African American population having peaked, at 71 percent, in 1970.
In 2014 Silverman switched registrations to run as an Independent (the then current holder of the set-aside, non-Democrat, seat, David Catania, was leaving the city council to make a failed bid for mayor). Silverman was elected – with only 12 percent of the vote, all she needed in a crowded field in the special, set aside, race.
So D.C. is about to become the first city in the country to enact European-style welfare state labor policies, because of a candidate elected with 12 percent of the vote.
Supporters of the law, including Silverman, are already discussing how the new paid family leave policy will be a model that can be copied by other cities. This is unlikely. Like Silverman’s (and to a lesser degree Grosso’s) shifting political masks and guises, the paid family leave policy is not what it seems.
This is because D.C. is a deeply weird city, very unlike most American cities, with an almost apartheid like economy.
On the one hand, west of the Anacostia River, are mainly non-black, law and graduate school educated bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists, who for over two decades have been moving into D.C. at a rate of 1,000 new residents a month. These people have almost no unemployment – indeed they move here only after accepting jobs with government agencies or law firms. Their neighborhoods have almost no foreclosures. Their property values, and rents, have never fallen, even during the real estate crash back in 2008.
And then there are the two of the city’s eight wards, wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River, where incomes are much lower and unemployment rates much higher. Black unemployment for those between 16 and 24 in D.C. is 38 percent, while for whites it is 5 percent.
But it’s actually people 24 and up who will be hurt by paid family leave. D.C.’s new residents, who elected Silverman and Grosso, are mainly white (or non-black) lawyers and other graduate degree holders, who work for governments – federal, District, or even many international government agencies or state government offices that maintain a presence in D.C. According to Gallup, 38 percent of D.C. workers are employed by governments, the highest percentage in the nation.
Additional sections of D.C.’s urban elite are employed by government contractors.
It’s hard to find the number of D.C. residents who work for a government contractors or the number of people (including people from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs) employed at a location inside D.C. by a government contractor.
But that it’s another huge section of D.C.’s workforce is obvious. D.C. comes in at fifth place with $18 billion in revenue from government contracts (behind first place Virginia with $51 billion and fourth place Maryland at $27 billion). That’s about $29,000 for each of D.C.’s 650,000 residents, though of course the point is, for those in Anacostia, it isn’t creating employment opportunities for everyone. People born in D.C. whose education consisted of graduating from D.C.’s failed public school system rarely end up with the law degrees or the master’s degrees in cybersecurity, urban planning, economics, or environmental science, that are needed for lucrative federal jobs.
And then there are lobbyists, who may not be paid directly by a government but are paid because of government to influence government policies. They are paid more than the highly paid government employees. From 2000-2010, the D.C. metropolitan area added 21,000 families in the top 1 percent of income, reportedly more than any other metropolitan area in the country.
So when these people’s employers – government agencies, contractors billing the government, and lawyers and lobbyists billing people who receive the government contracts and other benefits – pay a new tax to give D.C. yuppies expanded paid leave, the American taxpayer will be paying for it. Most other cities wouldn’t be able to shift the cost of paid leave off onto American taxpayers generally.
It’s essentially a pay raise (an increase in benefits) for government employees in D.C. that will be covered by the American taxpayer, much as their collapsing subway system, Metro, is paid for in part by funds diverted from the gas tax that is supposed to maintain American highways.
Some purely private sector companies will leave D.C., or choose not to locate there. It’s easy enough to locate one or two subway stops outside D.C. in Maryland or Virginia, and make your employees come to you. That’s been happening for years because of crime, traffic, and other problems. It doesn’t hurt D.C. yuppies much, who can easily shop in Bethesda, Maryland or McLean, Virginia. And it won’t hurt Grosso or Silverman with their base. In 2014 Silverman voters were as white as…the people at a Bernie Sanders rally. Anacostia Wards 7 and 8 gave her 3 percent and 2 percent of their votes respectively.
It mainly just means that once again businesses will not be offering jobs in Anacostia and other poorer parts of D.C., to the chronically unemployed long-term residents who don’t have law degrees. If they have to pay extra taxes to operate in D.C. they’ll just operate in Maryland or Virginia. And poor black residents in D.C. will eventually move to neighboring Prince George’s County, or to North or South Carolina or some state where they have family. And they won’t be voting for Anita Bonds or other holdovers from the old Marion Barry machine. Many will never be eligible for paid family leave because they won’t have a job to take leave from.
Decades ago Lillian Wiggins, a columnist at the Washington Afro American, proposed that there was a conspiracy to wrest political control of D.C. away from its African American majority, and install a white dominated government and make the Capitol City a white city. She called it The Plan.
Today in D.C. failed public schools and minimum wage laws conspire to make it so many D.C. yuppies don’t have to meet many black people in a city that is 50 percent African American. Most of the jobs someone with a high school education could get are being replaced by self-check out kiosks.
D.C. “progressives” no longer have to see those whose lives and futures were stolen by the regulatory state’s eradication of opportunities or the government sector teacher’s unions elimination of quality education. They don’t have to experience any guilt or be pricked by thoughts about why trillions of dollars of welfare statism haven’t made things much better.
“Paid family leave” amounts to paying black people to leave town.
The Democrats have enacted The Plan.