Monday, July 03, 2017

U.S. Should Guarantee Paid Sick Leave For All Workers

The United States is the only developed nation that does not guarantee all workers at least some paid sick leave (and one of the very few in the entire world). About 61% of workers in the bottom 25% and 73% of workers in the bottom 10% get no paid sick leave at all. This means these workers, when they get sick, must make a terrible choice -- go to work anyway and endanger themselves, co-workers, and maybe even customers (since many work in service sector jobs), or do without some basic necessities for their families because of the loss in pay for missing work.

This is especially critical in our current economy, since a substantial portion of workers are trying to exist on these low-wage jobs -- and by 2020, it is expected that a full quarter of the U.S. work force will be in these low-wage jobs.

Elise Gould and Jessica Schieder of the Economic Policy Institute have written an excellent article on this issue (and it's well worth reading). I post below only the summary and conclusion of their study:


There is no federal law that ensures all workers are able to earn paid sick days in the United States. For workers who fall ill or whose families depend on them to provide care in the event of an illness, this means sick days can be incredibly costly. Taking needed sick time means workers go without pay or must show up at work while sick and delay seeking treatment for themselves or their dependents.
This paper examines recent trends in paid sick time and highlights some of the costs to workers and their families when they are not given the opportunity to earn paid sick time. By quantifying how lack of paid sick days threatens the economic security of low- and moderate-income families, it adds new data to debates over paid sick days measures in states and cities and the need for federal legislation. Over the last several years seven states, the District of Columbia, and 31 other localities have passed paid sick days laws, five of which are set to go into effect this July. Ballot initiatives are on the horizon and some policymakers are calling for a federal guarantee to allow workers to earn paid sick time.
Following are the main findings of the paper:
  • Lack of paid sick days is a real problem, particularly for low-wage workers, and it shows up in the large paid sick days gap between high- and low-wage workers. While approximately 64 percent of private-sector American workers currently have access to paid sick days, this topline number masks the fact that higher-wage workers have much greater access to paid sick days than lower-wage workers do: for example, 87 percent of private-sector workers in the top 10 percent of wages have the ability to earn paid sick days, compared with only 27 percent of private-sector workers in the bottom 10 percent.
  • Lack of paid sick days deprives workers of funds needed for basic necessities.Without the ability to earn paid sick days, workers must choose between going to work sick (or sending a child to school sick) and losing much-needed pay. For the average worker who does not have access to paid sick days, the costs of taking unpaid sick time can make a painful dent in the monthly budget for the worker’s household:
    • If the worker needs to take off even a half day due to illness, the lost wages are equivalent to the household’s monthly spending for fruits and vegetables; lost wages from taking off nearly three days equal their entire grocery budget for the month.
    • Two days of unpaid sick time are roughly the equivalent of a month’s worth of gas, making it difficult to get to work.
    • Three days of unpaid sick time translate into a household’s monthly utilities budget, preventing the worker from paying for electricity and heat.
    • In the event of a lengthier illness—say, seven and a half days of unpaid sick time—the worker would lose income equivalent to a monthly rent or mortgage payment.
  • State laws providing the right to paid sick days appear to be having a small but meaningful effect as the share of workers with access to paid sick time has increased, particularly at the low end of the wage spectrum.
    • Access to paid sick time for low-wage workers has increased since 2012, the year the first state law requiring paid sick days went into effect, in Connecticut. The share of low-wage, private-sector workers nationwide with paid sick time rose from 18 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2016, while the share of the top 10 percent of wage earners with this benefit has barely budged (86 to 87 percent over this period).
    • Of all regions, the Pacific region had the biggest overall increase in access to paid sick days, with the share of workers with access rising from 63 percent in 2012 to 73 percent in 2016 (in contrast, the share nationwide rose from 61 to 64 percent during the same period). Paid sick days laws went into effect in 2015 in California and 2016 in Oregon (two of the three states in the Census-designated Pacific region).


      For the millions of workers without access to paid sick days, many workers who are sick feel forced to go to work, where they are less likely to be productive and more prone to mistakes. The income security provided by paid sick days allows workers to rest, get the health care they need, and fully recover from an illness before returning to work. Also important, it allows workers to continue paying their monthly bills, even in the event of illness. This economic security is incredibly important for low-wage workers and their families, given that the vast majority of low-wage workers do not currently have access to paid sick time.
      State and local measures are critical but the problem calls for a national solution—especially given impending state attacks on the right of localities to legislate these protections (National Partnership 2017b). This year paid sick days protections were provided to the federal contractor workforce, guaranteeing the ability to earn (or expand) paid sick days to an estimated one million private-sector workers (Gould 2017). But efforts to reach the overall workforce have yet to succeed. The Healthy Families Act, first introduced in 2004, would allow workers in workplaces with 15 or more employees to earn at least one hour of paid sick time per 30 hours worked, among other provisions. While Congress has reintroduced the Healthy Families Act with stronger sponsorship than before, the act is not expected to advance. More action is needed to reach workers across the economy regardless of their wage levels, hours, or where their jobs are located.

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