TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, October 12, 2017

McCormack: Postpartum Taxation And The Squeezed Out Mom

Shannon Weeks McCormack (University of Washington), Postpartum Taxation and the Squeezed Out Mom, 105 Geo. L.J. 1323 (2017):

Faced with too-short (or nonexistent) maternity leaves, inflexible work schedules, and the soaring costs of childcare in the United States, many new mothers temporarily leave the workforce to care for their young children. Although media attention has focused on the “opt-out” mom, many more mothers are squeezed out of the external workplace. But mothers that try to return to work may discover that it is difficult to do so, as employers have been shown to be less likely to hire mothers than others. A mother that does reenter may find that even short periods out of work cost (sometimes far) more than the income foregone during her intended time out and may result in a reduction in her overall earning potential, retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits. This may contribute to severe economic hardships among divorced mothers and their children, the underrepresentation of women in high-level leadership positions, and a wage gap between mothers and others, to name a few problems.

Recognizing these realities, experts that study the biases faced by women in the workplace encourage mothers who want or need to work to resist leaving, even during their children’s preschool years when childcare (and other financial and personal) costs are so high that the short-term prospects of working may seem (in some cases quite) low. These experts instead urge mothers to view these high costs as investments in their most valuable economic asset: their lifelong earning potential. Using these insights, this Article proposes ways in which the Internal Revenue Code could be modified to help prevent some new mothers from being squeezed out of the external workplace.

Scholarship, Tax | Permalink


I suspect one could find analogous results if one looked at men over the age of 50 who try to temporarily step out of the workforce to care for an aging parent or spouse, or some other similar event.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Oct 12, 2017 3:57:05 AM

The author is not shy about indicating which side she is on. "... this Article pushes more on the core idea that new mothers should avoid leaving the workforce when children are young and view high childcare (and other) costs as investments in their long-term earning potential."

The author even indicates that maybe mothers "postpartum" commuting and clothing expenses should be given more favorable tax treatment and certain postpartum interest should be treated as a deductible business expense.

First, it is not clear that encouraging mothers to have their children raised by others is a societal good. At least not clear to me. Second, every study I have seen shows that the tax code is a wildly inefficient mechanism to change personal behavior. Third, the tax code is not complicated enough - let's add more pages.

Preschool is taxpayer funded day care - every study of Head Start has failed to find lasting benefits. But why not support stay-at-home mothers, since they will not consume the taxpayer supported costs the author would impose.

And how long should this support be provided. Perhaps through high school? As my wife explained to me, having our middle and high school children unsupervised at home for 3 plus hours a day could be quite dangerous.

If this is what the country wants - put it to a vote and make direct subsidies. I suspect the author believes it would be politically simpler to, once again, tinker with the tax code.

Posted by: aircav65 | Oct 12, 2017 6:01:19 AM

The purpose of the tax code is to fund the federal government. Any attempt to try and fix the inequities of life will only make things worse.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Oct 12, 2017 6:05:27 AM

More insane third wave stuff that focuses on the obessions of upper middle class white women.

The author's horror at the fact that someone might consider staying at home with their children, which has lifelong positive impacts for the child in Iq and emotional wellbeing, is really quite insane. The fact that people have subjective perferences that might be different than being a corporate wage slave in a cubicle is just so hard to rap my head around.

The reality is that we are not machines designed for utility maximization. The fact that many women have the good sense to live deep and fufilling lives speaks to their virtue, not a problem to be fixed by central planning. I guess I will rack this up to the seen and the unseen, with social scientists unconsicously asserting that the only things we can measure (utility) are the only things that matter. I dissent from that proposition.

Posted by: The Prince | Oct 12, 2017 6:51:57 AM