Just in time for Father’s Day, the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire released the results of a new study on working parents. Its findings are a stark reminder of the effect that our failure to provide paid sick days can have on families, but also of the potential that this basic workplace standard holds for businesses and the well-being of workers.
The report, Who Cares for Sick Kids? Parents’ Access to Paid Sick Time to Care for a Sick Child, looked at working parents’ access to paid sick days, specifically whether they are able to earn at least five days per year to recover from illness or care for their children. According to the report, 34 percent of employed parents do not have access to at least five paid sick days to deal with their own health needs, and a striking 52 percent don’t have at least that many to use to care for a sick child.
These results mean that fewer than half of employed parents – mothers and fathers — are able to care for a sick child without fear of risking their jobs or financial security. And the numbers are even worse for those with low education levels and low wages — the very workers who, arguably, need paid sick days most.
Everyone gets sick. Any parent knows that kids inevitably get sick and need routine medical care. But when nearly two-thirds of children in the United States live in households where all parents work, working parents are too often forced to risk their families’ health or their economic security when illness strikes because they can’t get a reasonable amount of time away from work. As a result, families, businesses and our communities suffer.
The irony in all of this, as the Carsey Institute study shows, is that paid sick days reduce conflicts between work and family for workers and, thus, increase job satisfaction. In fact, the study finds that employed parents with paid sick days to care for a sick child are nearly twice as likely to report being very satisfied with their jobs as those who do not. Satisfied and happy workers are more productive and less likely to quit, making paid sick days a win-win for businesses, families and our economy.
It’s appropriate to talk about basic workplace standards like paid sick days around Father’s Day. After all, fathers are integral to families and their economic security. But the lack of paid sick days has a disproportionate impact on women. Seventy-four percent of employed mothers surveyed for this report said they have stayed home from work to care for a sick child, compared to only 40 percent of fathers. Women are now the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of families, and often their families’ primary caregivers. When they don’t have paid sick days, entire families suffer.
So, this Father’s Day, a time for celebration and thoughts of family, let’s all be grateful for the fathers in our lives. But let’s also remember and remind our state and federal lawmakers that there are working parents in this country — women and men — who are struggling without a fundamental workplace protection that many take for granted. For the good of all parents and families, it’s time to support paid sick days efforts. Fathers, mothers and families are counting on it.