A just-released study funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant to the State of Washington shows strong public support for a paid family and medical leave program – and new cost estimates that put such a program easily within reach of most workers and employers:
- Three in four Washington voters support a state paid family and medical leave program, with strong support across party identification, gender, age, and income.
- Strong majorities of voters favor a comprehensive program with shared premiums for employees and employers.
- A paid family and medical leave program to care for a new child, seriously ill family member, or a worker’s own serious health condition would cost a typical worker less than a cup of coffee each week.
- A paid family leave program would reduce the use of TANF (welfare) by new parents.
The study also included interviews with 30 employers and estimates of potential reductions in TANF (welfare) and SNAP (food stamps) usage by new mothers due to paid family leave.
Paid sick leave is critical for families for health care and economic reasons. Parents should not be forced to choose between caring for themselves or family members and their jobs. The lack of paid sick leave adds stress to families, exposes co-workers unnecessarily, and risks the spread of infectious diseases to children in schools and child care centers. As with other employee-provided benefits, such as health insurance and paid vacation, paid sick leave tends to be less available in lower-wage jobs.
Therefore, those who can least afford to lose any of their income are the most likely to have to choose between working and taking time to care for themselves or a child when they are sick. This intersection of low-wage work and the lack of benefits like paid sick leave helps keep the working poor from climbing out of their situation.
Guaranteeing all workers at least one week of paid sick leave would do much to help low-income working families and their children. In New Mexico, however, only half of private-sector workers have access to paid sick leave. This is the worst rate in the nation. New Mexico, with its high percentage of low-wage jobs and a correspondingly high rate of working families who are low-income, would have much to gain from enacting paid leave legislation.
In September 2012, Seattle became the third U.S. city to implement a paid sick leave ordinance. By early 2015, more than 20 cities and four states had paid sick leave laws on the books. Seattle’s law requires employers with more than four employees (full-time equivalents) to provide paid sick and safe leave for the health needs of workers and their family members, and to deal with the consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Initial evaluations of Seattle’s law and experiences in other localities suggest that many workers are likely to remain unaware of their rights to sick days. Lower wage workers are the least likely to be offered paid leave voluntarily by their employers, and with little bargaining power, are often unable to assert their legal rights even if aware of them.
To gain additional insight into the extent to which lower wage workers in Seattle are aware of the sick leave law and have access to paid sick leave, the Economic Opportunity Institute conducted a survey in partnership with the YWCA Seattle|King|Snohomish in the spring of 2015. Altogether, 83 people who had worked in Seattle during the preceding year participated. The responses to this survey provide insight into how widely Seattle’s sick leave law is being followed, but are not statistically valid for all Seattle workers.
In 2014, Seattle took the additional step of adopting its first citywide minimum wage ordinance. With multiple labor standards in effect, the City of Seattle is in the process of building a more robust enforcement capacity and undertaking renewed outreach to vulnerable workers in partnership with community organizations.
Hard-working Minnesotans should not lose wages or their jobs when they take time off to care for themselves or a sick family member, or deal with domestic abuse. But currently, 1.1 million Minnesotans, or 41 percent of the state’s workforce, face this situation because their jobs do not offer earned sick leave. These workers live all across the state, and in some counties, including Stearns and St. Louis, about half of all workers lack access to earned sick leave.
Expanding access to earned sick time would allow workers to care for themselves and their families when illness strikes. Families with access to paid sick leave also are able to make medical appointments at regular office hours instead of having to wait for after work hours when they may need to use more expensive emergency services.
Earned sick leave is good for workers and for our state’s economy by giving us a more productive and stable workforce.