In 2012, 61 percent of private sector workers older than 18 had access to paid sick days, an increase from 57 percent in 2009, according to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) offered exclusively to ThinkProgress.
While the country now has eight paid sick days laws in effect in seven cities and the state of Connecticut, the increase over 2009 is likely thanks more to a recovering economy than the passage of these policies, Claudia Williams, a research analyst with IWPR and one of the report’s authors, told ThinkProgress. “Employers are feeling a little bit better, less strained, so they’re giving a little bit more leave.” The proportion of the population covered by paid sick days requirements is still relatively small, so for those laws to impact the data, a few more states would have to join. Eight are currently vying to be the next. “However,” she added, “I think it’s important to have laws, because voluntary employer action is not getting us anywhere.”
Even with the slight increase, more than 41 million people can’t take a paid day off when they or their family members fall ill. And this is a problem that affects low-income workers far more than the well off. Less than a third of those who make $19,000 a year or less have access to paid sick leave, compared to more than 80 percent of those who make $65,000 or more. Hispanic workers are also much less likely than other racial groups to be able to take a paid day off, as less than half get paid sick days.
Access to leave also varies greatly by occupation, from 87 percent of architects and engineers to 31 percent of personal care and service workers and less than a quarter of food preparation and servers. “Occupations that are low-income are less likely to give sick days to people, especially food preparation or personal care,” Williams observed. “People who are employed in these occupations have constant contact with the public.” Personal care workers include childcare providers, domestic workers, and those who care for the elderly, and few can take a day off if they catch the flu, which could easily spread to those they care for. “Everyone preparing your food — less than a quarter have sick days,” she noted. But universal access to paid leave allows nearly three-quarters of workers to stay home when they’re sick, cutting flu transmissions by more than 5 percent .
These occupations tend to be dominated by women — they are more than 90 percent of in-home health aides who care for the elderly and 65 percent of fast food workers. “People sometimes think that women trade off lower pay for better benefits,” Williams pointed out. “But I think the data show that women don’t have trade offs — they don’t have benefits and they don’t have good pay either.”
People who work part-time are also very unlikely to be given a paid day off for illness. Seventy percent of those who work 35 hours or more a week will get that benefit, compared to about a quarter of those who work 20 to 34 hours.