So I was arguing on reddit recently about paid family leave and employment benefits in general. Arguments were the typical “well if you want paid family leave, you should have waited to have kids until you were in a better position to get a better job” or “if you can’t afford kids, just don’t have sex” or “if you want any benefits at work or in life at all, you should have gotten more skills and got a better job.” This is my response to that. It’s not exactly an argument for anything (though I do support universal basic income and universal healthcare), but more an argument against these shitty ass arguments.
First of all, we need lower workers. Not everyone can climb the corporate ladder. There aren’t enough well paying jobs around, and we need people to sweep the floors, flip the hamburgers, and answer the phones. Our economy does not support everyone having a college-level job. Someone has to clean up the trash, someone has to serve your food, and someone has to put your money in the cash register. Therefore, the argument of “just get more skills and get a better job” is not helpful because not everyone can do that.
Second of all, you’re advocating for a world in which people are perfect. You’re basically saying that if you want to live comfortably, you are not allowed to make mistakes. You need to have your future planned out and in motion from the time you enter high school (because you need to graduate with good grades or you can’t get into college and get a good job), and fuck you if anything goes wrong, you just didn’t try hard enough. You’re advocating for a world in which people do not do things for pleasure (like have sex) but instead carefully craft every decision they make from the time they are 15 years old to make sure that their future is secure.
This view is completely devoid of any understanding of human psychology. That is not the way people work. Human beings make mistakes, and human beings are creatures that are driven by pleasure. And sometimes things happen that are out of your control. I think people forget that employment and life circumstances are not 100% within people’s control. They depend on outside factors, and therefore things can go wrong despite being perfect.
Maybe you graduated at the top of your class, but your parents are poor and you live in a bad neighborhood with no jobs that you can’t afford to get out of. Maybe you had a great paying job, but your company went under and you were laid off and for some reason or another, your skills are not easily transferable or the economy took a downturn, so you have trouble finding another job.
Despite doing everything right, you’re now in need of public assistance and have to take a crappy paying job. Are you any less deserving of a living wage or time off or health insurance? Are you any less deserving of happiness? And even if your current situation is your fault because you made mistakes in your past, what matters is that you’re trying now, and trying now means you deserve a shot. Everyone deserves a living wage for working and everyone deserves to have happiness, regardless of whether or not they made poor decisions.
Not only that, but it’s not exactly a helpful view for people who did make those mistakes. “Haha, you had a baby when you were 18 and your baby daddy left you and now you’re working 2 jobs and never get to spend time with your kid. But you and your kid deserve it because you had sex once when you were 17.” How is that helpful? How does that help people in that situation now? You can advocate personal responsibility all you want, but it doesn’t undo the past. Jane Doe can’t go back in time and not have a baby at 18. Captain Hindsight does not feed Jane Doe’s baby or make her situation any better. Captain Hindsight does not get Jon Doe his great paying job back.
People make mistakes. People will always make mistakes. Mistakes have consequences, and people should learn from their mistakes and try to keep from repeating those mistakes. But people should not have their entire lives ruined because of mistakes, especially mistakes that they made when they were young.