The coronavirus pandemic, real and exaggerated, has provided a unique opportunity to fortify the family and undermine the hegemonic cant of a regime that is hostile to Middle Americans.
Public school enrollment is down across the country, while homeschooling is on the rise, which should be good news for those frustrated with a system out to teach children what to think rather than how to think.
“Nebraska is one of several states reporting a sharp increase in the number of students home schooling this year,” Arianna Prothero and Christina A. Samuels report in EducationWeek. “So much so that this will be the first time in at least 15 years that enrollment in Nebraska public schools will have declined—a drop state education officials have said corresponds with the number of new home schoolers,” they add. “Nebraska private schools have also seen a dip in enrollment.”
McKinsey analysts Kweilin Ellingrud and Liz Hilton Segel note a different but related trend in Fortune.
“In September, when schools resumed, many of them with remote learning,” they write, “80% of the 1.1 million people who exited the workforce were women.” Women accounted for all of the net job losses, while men achieved some job gains in December. As of last month, unemployment for women stands at 1.9 percentage points above the pre-pandemic level. Ellingrud and Hilton note female workforce participation is down 57 percent—the lowest level since 1988, approaching the “steepest sustained decline since World War II.”
Longing for Home
Polling consistently shows most mothers would rather stay home than work. Wonks equivocate over why exactly that is because it is difficult for them to accept, as Sarah Landrum writes in Forbes, that simply “many remain in the home because they want to.” That might be frustrating for the keepers of a desiccated order, but, given meaningful policy support, it could be good news for families in general and children in particular.
According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans say a child is better off with at least one parent at home. There is a body of evidence indicating that children with a stay-at-home parent experience fewer behavioral problems, and that homeschooled children perform better academically. A 2009 study reported that the proportion of homeschoolers who graduated from college was approximately 67 percent, a figure higher than the one for both public and private school students.
Getting children out of public schools, enabling parents to spend more time with family than in the workforce—these are causes the Republican Party ought to support. Here is a moment in which a fundamentally better kind of society could be attained through the use of pro-family policies. The GOP, after all, professes “traditional values” against a Left out to destroy the family, brainwash children, and eliminate distinctions between the sexes. And yet, weirdly, Utah’s adopted son, Mitt Romney, recently drew fire, not for his usual anti-Trump-inspired backstabbing but for being one of the only Republican lawmakers to propose a pro-family initiative.
Under Romney’s “Family Security Act,” families would receive a monthly check for $350 for preschool-age children and $250 for those of school-age, with a maximum monthly payment of $1,250 per household, administered through the Social Security Administration. Funding for the bill would come from consolidating outmoded and redundant federal policies into direct support for families.
“In order to remain deficit-neutral and provide certainty for families, it also eliminates the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT), which is an inefficient tax break to upper-income taxpayers,” according to the proposal. “However, most families that previously claimed the SALT deduction will still be net beneficiaries through their larger monthly child benefits.”
Pro-Family Is Pro-Work?
Naturally, Republicans pounced on Romney on the rare occasion he had a good idea.
“Sending $250/$350 per month/per child to everyone, with no work requirement, is welfare,” tweeted Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Being pro-family means being pro-work,” Rubio wrote, adding that the Child Tax Credit expansion he co-sponsored with Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) is a better proposal. But Americans need help now, not at the end of the calendar year. And Rubio misses the more important point: being pro-family means enabling families to spend more time together.
Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) took a line similar to Rubio’s. “275K women left the workforce in Jan.—with many staying home to care for their kids & assist w/virtual learning,” she tweeted. “We must safely reopen our schools, put our kids first, & help get women back to work.” Ernst’s comments mirrored an objection Heritage Foundation analyst Rachel Greszler made about raising the minimum wage.
An increase in the federal minimum wage, wrote Greszler, could result in childcare becoming more expensive. “That could reduce employment by causing some parents—particularly within two-parent families—to stay home with children instead of working,” she added. “To the extent that women would be more likely to stay home than men, this could widen gender-based differences in the labor market.”
Put simply, Greszler accepts the gender pay-gap canard, and uses it as the premise for an argument she is pleased to call “conservative.” Women, according to Greszler and Ernst, should be liberated from the cult of domesticity and chained to the cubicle instead.
More to the point, why is the possibility of mothers spending more time with their own children undesirable? Does conservatism aim to conserve the gross domestic product, or hearth and home? Perhaps one reason many suburban women are reluctant to support the immediate and complete abolition of COVID-19 restrictions is that they have discovered they really don’t hate being stay-at-home moms and appreciate the political cover to continue in that role.
The pandemic provided an opening for Republicans, but it has also been a revealing moment for them. A party or movement that sets for itself the goal of “conserving” anything worthwhile would embrace the family, not the individual, as the primary building block of civilization.
But Rubio, Lee, Ernst, Greszler, much of the GOP and conservative policy organs subordinate the family to maximizing individual autonomy and economic output. And yet even that position is shot through with hypocrisy: families get bootstraps, but businesses that are too big to fail get bailouts and subsidies.
Republicans like to claim Democrats are out to destroy the family. If they aren’t actively participating in that destruction, they aren’t doing much to stop it. But they could.