Fact of the Week: Half of Low-Wage Workers Don’t Have a Single Paid Day Off


February 20, 2015

Almost half of workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid time off at all – not a single paid sick day, personal day, or vacation day, and no paid family or medical leave. For the lowest 10 percent of wage earners, the situation gets worse: nearly 80 percent of workers earning less than $15,000 per year lack access to sick days. In contrast, 95 percent of workers in the top 25 percent of wage earners have at least one of these paid time off benefits, and often more than one.
A new brief from CLASP, Wages Lost, Jobs at Risk, highlights the problems this lack of paid time off all too regularly causes for low-income workers and their families. Workers who go to work sick – even when they are in jobs where they can easily spread their illness to the public – because they can’t afford to lose a day’s wages. Workers who have to choose between sending their sick child to school or paying the bills at the end of the month. Workers who have even lost their jobs for taking an unpaid sick day.

According to the CLASP brief, almost one in five low-wage working mothers has been fired because they had to miss work due to illness or caring for a family member. When extended leave is needed, low-wage earners are often forced to quit their jobs, and often have to take a lower paying job – if they can find a job at all – after they’re able to return to work.

Natioanl Partnership paid sick days logo

Two bills in Congress could change these situations. The Healthy Families Act would create a national paid sick days standard, with workers accruing sick days to use for their own medical needs, care for an ill family member, or address issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year that workers could use when they or a family member have a medical issues, or to care for a newly born or adopted child. The program would be funded with modest employee and employer payroll contributions. As we noted last summer, the United States remains the only high-income country that does not guarantee paid family and medical leave.

Some states and localities are taking matters into their own hands rather than waiting for Congress to act – and that’s a good thing, since Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) first introduced the Healthy Families Act 11 years ago. To date, 21 jurisdictions have passed earned sick days laws, and there are ongoing campaigns in a number of other cities and states.

The National Partnership on Women and Families has a wealth of information on their website where you can learn more about paid leave, and they’ve also set up PaidSickDays.org where you can get more specific information on national and state paid sick days campaigns and the tell your members of Congress you support the Healthy Families Act. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act will also soon be reintroduced in the new Congress, and I’m sure as soon as it is, the National Partnership will be seeking our support.

The National Women’s Law Center also has a new report out this week on state initiatives that can lead to greater economic security for women and families, including paid sick days and paid family and medical leave.

No matter whose resources you use, I hope you’ll learn more and take action. As the paid sick days campaign slogan goes, “Everyone gets sick. Not everyone has the time to get better.” The sad fact is that those who can least afford to lose a day’s wages are most likely to lack paid time off to recover from an illness or care for a family member. That’s something that needs to change.

Fact of the Week
paid leave
paid sick days
Poverty and Income