In Familiaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paul II called for “a renewed ‘theology of work’” to give a theological account of “the meaning of work in the Christian life and determine the fundamental bond between work and the family.” Among other things, such a theology should articulate “the original and irreplaceable meaning of work in the home and in rearing children.” Toward this goal, St. John Paul called for the Church to “insist that the work of women in the home be recognized and respected by all in its irreplaceable value.”
Writing in 1981, the Pope assumed that the mother is the parent more likely to work at home raising and educating children. The principle is the same, however, regardless of which parent provides this service to the family and therefore to society. Without denigrating women who work outside the home, he insists that we also recognize the dignity and importance of working at home nurturing children. “[S]ociety must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not . . . compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family.”.
Perhaps most importantly, explained St. John Paul, we must overcome a mentality that “honors women more for their work outside the home than for their work within the family.” Among other things, this requires that “society should create and develop conditions favoring work in the home.” In other words, we should recognize and compensate the difficult work of raising children, something outside the reach of traditional labor-market mechanisms.
One of the many ways that “society” can create and develop such conditions is through tax and welfare policy, including prudential redistribution of income. Well-aimed laws and implementing regulations serve not only material needs that would not otherwise be met, but also encourage salutary changes in moral and political behavior.
Senator Romney’s Family Security Act is a positive step in achieving these twin goals. It largely replaces the current tax credit for young children (claimed annually when tax returns are filed) with regular monthly cash distributions. For nearly all children under the age of 5 years, the payment would be $350 per month; from 5 to 17, $250. The higher monthly payment would actually begin, upon application, four months before the unborn child’s due date—a total of $1400 to assist in preparing for the arrival of an infant.
The payments would begin to phase out for single-tax-filing households at $200,000 of income, and $400,000 for joint filers. Such a relatively high-income threshold removes disincentives in current family distribution schemes for working outside the home, while honoring those who choose to stay home. Nor does the Family Security Act penalizes couples with children from getting married, as does the current Temporary Aid for Needy Families program.
Thus, in its proposed form, the Romney bill incentivizes couples to have children, does not penalize them for getting married, and does not punish them for moving up the paid-income ladder. It would reduce poverty of single mothers and their children, and dramatically reduce extreme poverty, especially among children. This program would also be less expensive to administer than the current tax-return scheme, provide predictable income, and be less vulnerable to error and fraud.
The Act is not perfect. For example, the maximum monthly benefit for a family is $1250. This removes disincentives for having some children, but it discourages larger families. At a time when the American population is getting older and the number of births decreasing, it might be wiser to raise or remove the monthly cap as an investment in future tax payers. And it is expensive. Senator Romney contends that he has accounted for its annual cost of $66 billion with cuts and consolidation of other welfare programs, but the devil is in those details.
With those caveats in mind (and acknowledging that people of good will may have practical and moral objections to the plan), it is a more hopeful and thoughtful approach to social welfare programs than are currently in place. More importantly, it is an approach more resonant with Catholic social doctrine, distributing social burdens in an equitable way, while incentivizing socially and morally desirable behavior. It is a plan that more closely answers St. John Paul’s call for work and welfare policy that is “for the good of all, the family, the Church and society.”
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