For working families today, paid sick days can mean the difference between staying afloat and being unable to afford basic expenses like food and transportation – and this lifeline comes at minimal or no cost to businesses. This is the theme of a report released yesterday at a briefing co-hosted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the National Partnership. I was honored to join a group of panelists, including Liz Weiss, labor policy advisor to Senator Tom Harkin, and Elise Gould, director of health policy at EPI, to discuss EPI’s compelling new research about just how precarious American families’ economic security is in tough times.
EPI’s new report, authored by Gould, paints a stark picture of what it means when a working parent’s job offers no paid sick days. In the best case, the worker takes time off without pay. For the average family without paid sick days, if one parent misses three-and-a-half days of work in a month, it loses the equivalent of the family’s entire grocery budget. Missing five days of work reduces the same family’s income to 84 percent of the amount needed to get by.
Even worse, taking an unsanctioned sick day means job loss. At a time when nearly half of all unemployed Americans have been looking for new work for six months or more, this is a cost that struggling families can’t afford to bear.
Yesterday’s discussion included some compelling evidence that refutes concerns about whether businesses can afford to give workers the right to earn paid sick days. An EPI report released in March focused on the cost to businesses in Connecticut of providing paid sick days. The report showed that Connecticut businesses – many of which, beginning in January 2012, will be required to provide paid sick time to certain workers under America’s first statewide paid sick days law – will bear minimal costs as a percentage of sales (fewer than one-half of one percent). This matches the reported experiences of San Francisco businesses, which have been living easily and successfully with the nation’s first paid sick days law for four years now.
Momentum for paid sick days policies is growing through campaigns in cities and states around the nation. Ultimately, a federal standard is the best way to ensure that all workers have basic paid sick days protections. Support for the Healthy Families Act, a federal paid sick days bill, reached new levels in the last Congress and continues to grow in the 112th. Paid sick days are also a key part of Representative Lynn Woolsey’s Balancing Act legislation, which was reintroduced this week. Representative Woolsey is a longtime champion of measures that are important to working families. She announced her retirement this year, and America’s families will miss her powerful advocacy. Her omnibus work and family bill addresses the multiple challenges working families face. Congress should pass it. We hope to see paid sick days protections included in many new pieces of legislation addressing the rights of domestic workers and health equity this year.
As Liz Weiss said yesterday, Senator Harkin is “proud to have taken up the mantle of paid sick days because it not only benefits public health and family health but increases and ensures the economic security of families.” I couldn’t agree more. The time for action is now. Working families can’t afford to wait any longer.