Celebrating a Decade of Paid Sick Days Progress, Resolving to Pass a National Policy

Alex Baptiste

January 8, 2020 | Paid Sick Days, Economic Justice

The beginning of a new year — and a new decade — is a time for reflection. And while the state of the country right now can sometimes feel dark, there have been significant bright spots to celebrate over the past decade that give us reason for hope in the years to come. At the National Partnership, one that we’re especially proud of is the tremendous progress that working people and advocates for fairer workplaces have made in securing paid sick days victories for workers and families across the country.

Just 10 years ago, nearly 40 percent of private sector workers could not earn a single paid sick day. Things were even worse for workers in low-quality jobs: just 1 in 5 of the lowest-paid workers had access to paid sick days, and 3 in 10 food service workers. Since 2010, 10 states and 20 other jurisdictions have enacted paid sick days laws, with the majority of legislative victories coming in just the last five years. On New Year’s Day 2020 alone, workers in Duluth, Minn., gained access to paid sick days, and those in Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, Washington state and Santa Monica, Calif., marked the anniversary of their paid sick days laws taking effect. Nevada's paid time off law, while not a paid sick days policy, also went into effect this year.

Champions of paid sick days laws have faced legal challenges and efforts to pre-empt, water down or undermine the true purpose of the laws, but during this decade of progress, access to paid sick days has nonetheless steadily risen. Seventy-three percent of private sector workers now have paid sick days — an increase of 12 percentage points since 2009. And these gains have been reaching the workers who needed them most, although more remains to be done: 3 in 10 of the lowest-paid workers can now earn paid sick days, and access among food service workers has increased to 45 percent — an even larger increase than average.

These legislative victories are proof the paid sick days movement is gaining significant traction and that the tipping point for a national policy is soon near. Yet even as we celebrate a decade of tremendous progress, today more than 34 million private sector workers cannot earn a single paid sick day. For many families, missing even a few days of work jeopardizes their ability to pay for the basics, like rent and groceries. The result is that individuals without paid sick days are more likely to send a sick child to school or day care, seek emergency room care, and are less likely to receive preventive care such as flu shots.

There are also striking disparities in paid sick days access based on income and occupation — particularly occupations in which women and people of color make up the majority of the workforce. While data does not break down paid sick days access by race or ethnicity, recent data from the American Time Use Survey shows that Latinx and Black workers are less likely than white or Asian American workers to have any workplace leave benefits — including paid sick days.

No one should have to choose between health and family or a paycheck. The Healthy Families Act would establish a national paid sick days standard, enabling more than 30 million additional workers to earn paid sick time and expanding access to paid sick days to more than 90 percent of the private sector workforce. Evidence from cities and states with paid sick days laws in place show that a national standard would reduce the risk of community contagion, prevent costly emergency room visits and strengthen both the economic security of families and businesses’ bottom lines.

This is a moment to reflect on the power of the people who won the state and local battles, but we are not stopping here because access to paid sick days shouldn’t depend on where you live. As we look forward to the next decade and imagine the potential for progress and change, we resolve to pass a national paid sick days standard and urge members of Congress to support and pass the Healthy Families Act.

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