Look, I’m considering it. I know that you can’t outrun biology, and all the health outcomes are tipped in your favour if you have a baby sooner rather than later. But our generation is getting a raw deal with child-bearing, and I can’t help factoring that into the decision.
I am one of the lucky few that has a good, full-time job, but I don’t have maternity benefits – in fact, out of women employed before they became pregnant, only 1 in 5 have employer top-up for maternity. So I would have to rely on our EI system. If I take baby leave (17 weeks for maternity and 35 weeks for parental leave), my income will be decimated at a time when I will have greater expenses than ever. EI only gives 55% of income up to a max income of $47,400 (a maximum of $26,000, and that’s taxable). And child care costs will continue the wreckage to the tune of $25k a year for an infant, and about $15k for a toddler.
Our EI program for maternity leave is incredibly out of touch with Canada’s modern families. When maternity pay through EI was introduced in 1971, by and large, women weren’t the breadwinners. Only about 8% of women in the 70s were primary earners. But now? The growing number of women who earn the majority of their household income account for 31% of Canadian households, and that number is climbing as more women achieve higher education.
So now, if a woman breadwinner becomes pregnant, the family suffers a much bigger drop in income when they have a child. Consider this example: A couple I know recently had a baby. She makes $50,000 a year, and he makes $35,000 - $85,000 total. When she took maternity leave, their income dropped to about $60,000 – a difference of $25,000. If she made the smaller salary, the difference in income would have been between $10,000-15,000. That’s a big hit not just to the woman, but to the whole family.
Sure, we can do the math and say that her husband could stay at home for some of that year, but the reality is that only mothers are entitled to the first 17 weeks of maternity leave, and it’s realistic to expect that they will take some portion of the parental leave too.
So this isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s an issue for any would-be modern family.
Our EI program presumes that your male partner is the breadwinner, and it provides a maximum amount barely above poverty levels. It doesn’t account for different types of family composition, and it certainly doesn’t account for the dramatic drop in income it’s creating for families with female breadwinners.
Maybe that model worked back when it was first introduced, but it certainly doesn’t work for a two-income household with a pregnant woman bringing home the bacon, and it definitely doesn’t work for the growing number of women who are self-employed, or working contract to contract, and don’t qualify for an EI program that has ever-shrinking eligibility rules. If you’re self-employed, you have to pay into an EI fund for 12 months to get any benefits.
Research shows that as women are more educated and earn higher salaries, the opportunity cost for them to have children grows. And it’s not likely that women are going to become less educated over time. We need to make child-bearing less of an economic tradeoff for families.
Gen Squeeze has a plan to give families a new deal – one that would extend leave policies for a total of 18 months, and provide benefits of 80% earnings up to $60,000.
It would also take the benefit system for new parents out of the EI system, so all new parents can qualify for a minimum benefit close to today’s maximum, around $23k regardless of their employment ties.
That’s a deal that also aims to build $10/day daycare – the current $100 per month cheque introduced by the federal government is woefully short of costs (you’re about 15 grand short, Steve), and isn’t actually tied to day care.
All we want is a chance to start a family, but with less time, more debt, and more responsibility, what seemed like a joyful choice becomes a heavy economic burden. Surely all the boomers in provincial and federal governments can relate to millions of prospective grandparents in Canada. Do they really want a childless Canada? By ignoring maternity and child care issues for our generations, they’re asking for it.