Four in 10 American Workers Lack Paid Sick Days

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New research from the Institute for Women's Policy Research shows inequality in access to paid sick days by race/ethnicity, supervisor status, occupation, and earnings level. Only half of workers with paid sick days took any last year.

Access to paid sick days by occupation

This new research shows how the lack of paid sick days contributes to inequality in our nation. At the same time, workers’ use of paid sick days, when they have them, is incredibly modest overall.

New analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that four in ten workers in the United States lack access to paid sick days, and among those who do have access, only 55 percent of workers actually used any sick days in the previous year. Inequality in access to paid sick days exists within and across occupations, with supervisors more likely to have paid sick days than non-supervisors. Hispanic, low-wage, and food service and personal care workers are least likely to have access to this important benefit.

On average, workers with access to paid sick days take 2.1 sick days per year, compared with 1.6 days for workers without the benefit. This suggests that many people who do not have paid sick days are going to work sick.

“This new research shows how the lack of paid sick days contributes to inequality in our nation. At the same time, workers’ use of paid sick days, when they have them, is incredibly modest overall. Generous paid sick days policies can promote good health and cover workers in the rare instances when they need more than a few days off,” said IWPR Vice President and Executive Director Barbara Gault, Ph.D.

The briefing paper also finds inequality in access to paid sick days:

  • More than two in three supervisors (67 percent) have access to paid sick days, while less than half of non-supervisory workers (47 percent) have access.
  • Four out of every five food service workers do not have access to paid sick days. Food service jobs have one of the largest disparities in access to paid sick days between supervisors and non-supervisors as well, with food service supervisors being more than twice as likely to have access to paid sick days as non-supervisors (40 percent for supervisors, compared with 18 percent for non-supervisors), underscoring the inequalities present within occupations.
  • Three in four personal care workers do not have access to paid sick days. Both food service and personal care are jobs with frequent contact with the public.
  • The lowest earners are the least likely to able to take a day off with pay when they are sick, yet they are least likely to have paid sick days. Only one in five (22 percent) of those earning less than $15,000 a year have access to paid sick days, whereas nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) of those earning $65,000 or more have access to paid sick days.
  • Hispanic workers are much less likely to have paid sick days than white, Asian, or black workers: less than half of Hispanic workers (46 percent) in the United States have access to paid sick days, while two-thirds (67 percent) of Asian workers have access.
  • Access to paid sick days among men and women is equal (60 percent), but access is particularly important for women, who are more likely than men to have family care responsibilities. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that nearly 40 percent of mothers say they are solely responsible for staying home from work with sick children, compared with only 3 percent of fathers.

“These data indicate that workers least able to lose pay when they are sick are also the least likely to have employer-provided paid sick days,” said Jeff Hayes, Ph.D., IWPR Program Director for Job Quality & Income Security. “And in the case of restaurant and personal care workers, this lack of access can have serious public health ramifications, including increased spread of contagion.”

The briefing paper uses new data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), and is the first to provide estimates on the number of work days that employees missed in the past year due to illness or injury, and analyzes usage rates by sex, race and ethnicity, geography, occupation, and other demographic characteristics.

Read the full briefing paper on IWPR.org. >>

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Jennifer Clark
@IWPResearch
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