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Access to Paid Sick Days Varies by Race, Gender

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Paid sick days, considered a non-negotiable matter for many employers and employees, are not equally available to all Americans. In fact, just over half of black workers and less than half of Hispanic workers get paid for sick days.

That’s the finding of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which made the determination using data on private sector employees from the 2009 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). IWPR estimates show that Asian Americans and whites overall have the highest rates of access to paid sick days at 67 and 60 percent respectively, compared with 56 percent of blacks and 42 percent of Hispanics.

White women (59 percent) are slightly less likely than white men (61 percent) to have access to paid sick days. On average, black and Hispanic women have higher rates of coverage as compared to the entire black and Hispanic and populations, while white women have lower rates of coverage as compared to the overall white and Asian American populations.

“Wage and earnings inequality have been and continue to be linked to race, ethnicity and gender, but these estimates document an additional source of economic inequality in the U.S.—the ability to affordably take time off work in order to care for yourself or your family,” said Robert Drago, research director at the IWPR. “Equal access to paid sick days is important because anyone may become ill, or have a family member who suffers injury or illness.”

“For many workers, including the majority of Latinos, taking a day off to attend to a sick child could mean losing their job,” said Eric Rodriguez, vice president of the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group. “Fair wages, a safe and healthy workplace and paid sick leave are all part of the formula of job quality.”

“Access to paid sick days is a racial justice issue,” said C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network and a professor at New York University. “The economic security of low-income families and communities depends on the passage of state and federal policies that ensure work-life balance.”

The NHIS figure used in the estimate released today closely parallels a recent IWPR estimate using data from the National Compensation Survey (NCS) that showed an average rate of access to paid sick days at 58 percent. That analysis found that only 23 percent of food service workers and 38 percent of personal care workers (who work directly with the elderly or disabled) have access to paid sick days. The NCS is a survey of private sector workers that includes personal care workers.




Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.