In Focus: Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

Jul 3, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

On July 4th, Remember our Roots and Provide Sick Days for Immigrant Workers

By Alex Wang

On July 4th, as our nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s important to remember the critical role immigrants have played and continue to play in our collective prosperity. Unfortunately, while immigrant workers make up a growing share of the U.S. labor force, many lack access to labor standards, such as paid sick days, that are critical to job security, public health, and the economy.

A new brief co-authored by CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds that immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. This difference is especially pronounced for Hispanic immigrants and lower-wage immigrant workers, particularly those who make less than $35,000 per year. The inability to take even one paid sick day forces workers to choose between their health (or the health of a loved one) and their daily earnings or—in some cases—their jobs.

 Key findings from our report include:

  • Immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Only 54 percent of immigrants have access to sick days, compared to approximately 63 percent of their native-born counterparts.
  • Hispanic immigrants have the least access to sick days relative to all other racial/ethnic groups. On average, only 41 percent of Hispanic immigrants have access to sick days.
  • Asian immigrant women have much lower access to sick days than native born Asian women. Only 64 percent of non-Hispanic Asian immigrant women have access to sick days, versus 75% of native born women.
  • Lower-income immigrant workers who are working full time are less likely to have earned sick days than native-born counterparts at similar income levels. Immigrants with incomes of less than $65,000 per year have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Around 26 percent of immigrant workers making less than $15,000 per year have access to sick days versus almost 36 percent of native-born workers.

Access to paid leave is a key aspect of job quality and compensation that is often overlooked. Given that no national law currently guarantees U.S. workers paid sick days, workers at all wage levels depend on their employers to offer leave voluntarily. While employers of higher-wage workers often do provide leave, low-wage workers are often unable to earn paid sick days, exacerbating income inequalities for those at the bottom.

Fortunately, at the state and local level, there is a growing movement to extend paid sick days access to all workers; to date, seven localities and one state have passed paid sick days law. Further, federal legislation that would extend this labor standard to all U.S. workers, the Healthy Families Act, has been introduced to Congress.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. to settle, raise American children, and contribute to our national economy should be guaranteed equal access to benefits. It’s time to act to bring paid sick days—which have widespread public support—to all U.S. workers, especially those who are severely disadvantaged.

Read the brief >>

Jun 13, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Conference Explores Connections Between Low-Wage Work and Child Poverty

By Lauren French

More than 16 million children in the United States are living in poverty, making our child poverty rate—a shocking 23 percent—one of the highest in the developed world. Children are also the poorest age group in the country; while they represent just 24 percent of our total population, they make up 34 percent of all people in poverty.

Earlier this week, a conference held in Washington, D.C. brought together a number of experts to discuss policy solutions. Inequality Begins at Birth: Child Poverty in America, co-hosted by The Century Foundation, the Roosevelt Institute, and the Academic Pediatric Association (APA), focused on important issues such as the impact of toxic stress; the demographics of child poverty; the challenges facing working mothers; the need for higher wages and paid leave policies; and the importance of safety net programs.

One critical aspect of child poverty discussed by conference speakers is its inextricable link to low-wage work. “What's little understood is that the typical poor child lives in a household with a parent who's in the workforce,” said Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director of CLASP. “Two out of every three poor children have a parent in the workforce; one out of every three of those children has a parent working full-time, year-round, and is still in poverty.”

Poor children are not only negatively impacted by parent's low wages but also by the lack of benefits afforded by those jobs—especially paid leave and paid sick days. “No parent should be stuck in a situation in which they have to make the hard decision about whether or not they want to be a responsible parent or whether or not they will be a dedicated employee,” said Avis Jones-DeWeever, author and former executive director of the National Council for Negro Women. Unfortunately, that is a very real struggle for the 70 percent of low-wage workers who have no access to paid sick days and the nearly half of low-wage workers who have no paid leave at all: no sick days, no family leave, no vacation. This creates a situation where parents who take time to care for their families may lose not only wages but also their jobs. Poor-quality jobs can be hazardous to family well-being and can perpetuate poverty.

The connection between parents’ low-wage jobs and child poverty has been increasing over time. According to Levin-Epstein,“low wage jobs are trending” and “the share of poor children with a parent working full-time, year-round has grown significantly over the last 20 years—up from one quarter to nearly a third.”

This conference and the corresponding research make clear that if we want to address child poverty, we must address the precarious situation of their low-income parents. Working families need decent jobs if they are to properly care for their children and ensure future prosperity.

To see the working parents panel at the conference click here.


May 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Growing Attention on Paid Leave as a Dimension of Inequality

By Lauren French

President Obama, in his most recent State of the Union address,  predicted that fighting inequality would be the “defining project of our generation.” The President’s forecast reflects a growing concern among most Americans about rising economic inequality. Conversations about inequality often focus on the wage gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. However, increasingly, advocates, policymakers, and members of the public have come to recognize that other aspects of compensation, such as paid family and medical leave and earned sick time, are an important part of the equation. The relationships between inequality and these policies, along with others that enable workers to do their jobs and care for their families, are the focus of several new reports.  

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released, Work-Family Supports for Low-Income Families: Key Research Findings and Policy Trends, which provides an overview of research on the effects of paid family leave, paid sick leave, and workplace flexibility on the well-being of low-income working parents and their families. The paper notes the positive impact such policies have on child development, parents’ financial stability, employers’ productivity, and the public health. Pamela Winston, the author of the report, explains, “[A]ccess [to these policies] is highly skewed by wage levels and other job characteristics in ways that mean the lowest income families tend to have the least access to all types of work-family benefits.” Given the host of benefits associated with access to leave and flexibility, the paper underlines how unequal access further exacerbates existing inequalities.

A recent examination of data from the National Health Interview Study (NHIS) by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) also highlights the ongoing stratification of access to paid sick days. IWPR’s brief shows that fewer than three in ten workers making $19,999 a year or less have access to any paid sick days. In contrast, among those making $65,000 or more annually, eight in ten workers have access to paid sick days. Access to paid sick days also varies by race. Only 47 percent of Latino workers have access to paid sick days, compared with 64 percent of white workers and 62 percent of black workers. 

CLASP’s recently published brief, Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic & Social Inequality, highlights other ways that lack of earned sick days and paid family and medical leave can entrench inequality, including the potential for job and wage loss among workers who lack protections but must take time away from work to care for themselves or their families. The brief also points to a recent survey showing that nearly half of low-wage workers (those in the lowest 25 percent of the wage scale) lack any form of paid leave: no vacation, no personal days, no sick days, and no family leave.

Media outlets have also been paying attention to this aspect of economic inequality. In a recent New York Times piece, Judith Warner argued that public policies to support working families are an obvious and simple part of the solution to growing inequality. Warner got at the crux of why unequal access to paid leave needs to be addressed as an urgent economic issue: “What this all means is that the people who are already in the most precarious economic circumstances are the most at risk for devastating loss of income – and assets – when they need to care for their children.” This is also true for workers who become ill themselves or need to care for other sick family members, such as parents or siblings.

With Thomas Pikkety’s book on inequality flying off the shelves, it is clear that Americans are eager to find solutions to the many problems that contribute to the current injustices in our economy. Paid leave and other policies to support workers with caregiving responsibilities are a critical but often overlooked part of the solution. 

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