Though it might seem like common sense to provide every employee with paid time off for emergency situations, paid leave is not as common as one might think. According to new research, paid leave is even less likely for low-wage, Hispanic and part-time workers. Due to these hardships, workers are in many instances forced to leave their job and receive no income, or lose their job altogether.
“…Paid leave is an aspect of compensation,” said Policy Analyst for CLASP, Liz Ben-Ishai. “There’s a lot of focus on the minimum wage and increasing wages for low-wage workers, which is very important and pressing, but there are other aspects of a job – including access to paid leave – which affect the overall compensation that a worker receives.”
The report notes, that lack of paid leave often contributes to lost wages and job loss. One in seven workers have lost a job due to a sickness or to take care of an ill family member. Those odds increase for low-wage working mothers. About one in five low-wage earning mothers report having lost employment due to illness or caring for a family member.
“For a worker with a low-wage job, missing a day of work, or a few hours of work even, can really mean the difference between paying the bills or paying rent or not being able to do so,” said Ben-Ishai. “…But there’s also differences along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, education level in terms of access to leave, which exacerbates inequalities.”
About 19 percent of first-time mothers with less than a high school education had access to paid maternity leave in 2008. That number jumps to 65 percent for first-time mothers with a college degree for that same year. When looking at races and ethnicities, whites are more likely to have access to paid parental leave (about half). African-American workers come in second at 43 percent, and Latino workers are the least likely to have paid parental leave access (25 percent).
The same can be said for lack of access to paid sick days. According to the report, only 30 percent of low-wage workers have paid time off to recover from an illness – a figure that drops to less than 25 percent for part-time workers. About 64 percent of white workers have access to paid sick leave, while Black employees follow closely at 62 percent, and Latinos lag at 47 percent.
The report also notes that since there is no national requirement to set a minimum standard for private sector employees to earn paid leave, workers of all earnings can be denied of paid leave benefits. Currently, employers can voluntarily offer these benefits, but as the study shows, low-wage earners get left behind on this front as well.
“There’s a growing call for policies that will [help] stop the increase of inequality within our society and to try to address the existing inequalities,” said Ben-Ishai. “This is one really important feature we think of when it comes to inequality. The fact that so many workers are unable to take the time they need to care for their families or their own health is something that can be addressed by setting a minimum [standard] for the amount of paid leave that workers can have.”