Economic Snapshot | Unions and Labor Standards

Rich People Have Paid Sick Days. Poor People Do Not.

In the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a right to earned paid sick leave for all workers in this country, and directed federal agencies to offer paid family leave to their workers. Family economic security is at risk when workers do not have access to paid leave. Currently, more than one-third of all workers—39 percent—have no paid sick days. When these workers get sick, they are forced either to go to work, or to stay home without pay and risk losing their job. Access to sick days is also vastly unequal. As shown in the figure below, workers at the top of the scale are nearly four times more likely to have sick days than workers at the bottom of the wage scale. Only one-in-five low-wage workers have paid sick days, compared with 87 percent of high-wage workers. These low-income workers are the ones who can least afford to lose pay when they are sick.

Economic Snapshot

Rich People Have Paid Sick Days. Poor People Do Not.: Percent of private industry workers with access to paid sick days, by wage group, 2014

Category Share of workers who have access to paid sick days
Bottom 25% 30%
Second 25% 64%
Third 25% 73%
Top 25% 84%
Bottom 10% 20%
Top 10% 87%


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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Compensation Survey--Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2014 (Table 6).

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The United States is behind all of our economic peers in the world in terms of providing what should be a bare minimum standard: paid leave when workers are sick, have doctor’s appointments, or need to care for family members.

Opening paid sick days for those who currently don’t have them will mean stronger, healthier families. It will ensure that working parents do not have to choose between staying home with a sick child and going to work, and it will mean that sick employees don’t have to go to work sick, endangering their own health and the health of their colleagues and their customers.

See related work on Paid sick leave | Unions and Labor Standards

See more work by Elise Gould