Economic Snapshot | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

Access to Sick Days Vastly Unequal

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Snapshot for April 25, 2007.

Access to Sick Days Vastly Unequal

By Elise Gould

On average, 57% of private-industry workers in the United States have access to paid sick leave. That means that 43% of all private-industry workers have no paid sick days. When workers get sick, they are either forced to go to work or stay home without pay and risk losing their job. What this number masks, however, is how vastly unequal access to sick leave is depending on workers’ wages. Workers at the bottom of the wage scale, those making less than $7.38 an hour, are five times less likely to have sick days than workers at the top of the scale, those making greater than $29.47 an hour. As the Figure reveals, only 16% of low-wage workers have access to sick days, whereas 79% of high-wage workers do.

Figure: Percent of private-industry workers with access to sick days by wage range

In recent months, legislation has been introduced that would level the playing field and provide much needed paid leave for workers who are sick. Such legislation—as exists in other advanced economies—would not only give workers an important benefit, but could provide valuable incentives for increased productivity in the workforce through worker loyalty, decreased turnover, and a decline in sick employees showing up to work and infecting others.

It is time for the United States to join the rest of the developed world and guarantee paid leave for its workforce.

See related work on Paid sick leave | Income and wages | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

See more work by Elise Gould