How Should Government Promote Stable Families?

While the achievement of marriage equality will be a tremendous step, it comes at a time when an extended recession has drawn attention to the economic fragility of contemporary families. When two parents are required to support a child (or when only one is available), the consequences of unemployment or underemployment can be devastating for the whole family. When un- and underemployment are widespread, extended families, neighbors, and charitable organizations are likely to find their ability to help greatly curtailed. The leisure time that would allow some citizens to help others is eaten up in the search for economic stability.

The existing social safety net has proven inadequate. Programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps help to ameliorate some of the burden of the recession for some people, but their counter-cyclical nature brings increased calls for the restriction of government spending just when such spending would seem most necessary. There is no suitable program for the underemployed.

A more effective means of helping families in times of economic crisis would be permanent, systematic reforms in which the breadth of the more stable the citizenship system was expanded to serve as a better compliment to the dynamism of capitalism.

  • Real health care reform is at the top of my list (more here).
  • I think it is worth considering local or state-sponsored childcare as a way to promote families by diminishing the leisure and economic trade-offs of having children.
  • Inasmuch as most higher-end jobs require basic computer literacy, a permanent program for providing such classes to both children and adults could be a huge boon to both our economy and to individual social mobility.
  • We need to reverse the trend of shifting the cost of higher education from the state to the students. That trend threatens to substitute the capitalist model for the citizenship model, reinforcing social stratification in what should be the brightest path for social mobility.

Each of these programs could both boost our overall economy and greatly help families in weathering the worst storms of capitalist dynamism. Families that could count on health care, childcare, and access to increased education could afford to risk part of their leisure time on entrepreneurship in good economic times. In hard times, such programs would help them maintain some of their pool of leisure time. With that time they could aid their neighbors, engage in political activism, better themselves, or ensure a brighter future for their children. In short, they could continue as citizens in the midst of a capitalist crisis.


(For the other posts in this sequence on family, see here and here.)

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