Paid Leave Is Critical to a Racially Just Pandemic Recovery, a New Report Concludes

It has been one year since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the systemic racial inequities across our economy and health care systems continue to take center stage. Today, the National Partnership for Women & Families released a report that provides further evidence of the need to address these racial disparities. The new report finds that communities of color often lack access to paid leave which leads to devastating health and financial outcomes. The report, which is an update to the 2018 report, takes a close look at how people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, yet are less likely to be able to take paid time off of work to care for themselves or a loved one.

“The pandemic has widened the deep divide between the most advantaged workers in our country and the workers who hold low-paying jobs or jobs deemed essential to our economy,” said Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “These workers are more likely to be people of color and are less likely to receive basic job protections and the ability to take a day off without missing a paycheck. Paid leave should not be considered a ‘nice to have benefit.’ This report illuminates that point by examining the life-altering economic and health consequences of not being able to take time off work to care for oneself or a loved one. If we have learned anything from this pandemic it’s that the time is now to address the long-standing systemic inequities that leave communities of color more vulnerable in a time of crisis.”

The key findings include:

  • People of color have been hardest hit by both the pandemic and its economic effects. By April 2020, Latinx, Black and Asian American people made up disproportionately large shares of those who took time away from work due to coronavirus symptoms.
  • Pay discrimination and leave discrimination mean people of color face greater hardships when they need to take care of themselves or their families. Workers of color typically have lower pay, fewer employer-provided leave benefits, and face other forms of economic insecurity, and so are less likely to be able to afford unpaid leave. Compared to white workers, Latinx workers are 66 percent less likely, Black workers 83 percent less likely and Native American, Pacific Islander and multiracial workers 100 percent less likely to be able to take leave when needed. In fact, 28 percent of Black workers reported having requests for leave denied, compared to 9 percent of white workers.
  • The United States’ segregated economy and reliance on employers to provide basic health and family supports, including paid leave, have created greater economic insecurity for people of color. 50 percent of Latinos report not having access to paid time off, compared to 34 percent of White workers.
  • People of color have been shut out of wealth-building opportunities, leaving them fewer assets to rely on during economic and health shocks. As of July 2020, more than half of Black adults (52 percent), and nearly half of Latinx adults (45 percent), reported they would have difficulty covering an unexpected $400 expense, compared to about three in ten white adults (29 percent).

The report goes on to note that a well-designed paid family and medical leave program is critical for an equitable economic recovery. Evidence from the ten states, including the District of Columbia, that have enacted paid family and medical leave demonstrates that the policy will help address economic inequities as well as racial inequities in health that have been brought to the fore during the pandemic.

Senators and Members of the U.S. House of Representatives applauded the report. A roundup of quotes is available here.

About the National Partnership

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help all people meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at NationalPartnership.org.

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