Brand new data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrates just how often workers struggle to cope with conflicts between their job and their family’s need for care and that access to paid leave is incredibly unequal—none more so than Latinos, who are the least likely racial or ethnic group to have access to paid sick days. Only 43 percent of Latinos accrue any type of paid leave from their employers compared to 60 percent of whites and 61 percent of African Americans. Men are more likely than women to have paid leave even though Hispanic women are more likely to be the parent who needs to miss work and stay home with a sick child.
No worker should ever have to choose between his or her health and a paycheck. Nor should anyone ever have to choose between taking care of their family, and keeping their job. Nor should employers and managers be put in the position of choosing between the needs of their businesses and the health and safety of their employees (and by extension sometimes, their customers) and their families.
Yet everyday, hardworking employees are faced with those kinds of decisions because they lack access to paid sick days or workplace flexibility. And everyday, employers can put the short-term competitive needs of their businesses before the health and safety of their employees due to the absence of a federal paid sick day law.
Even though most families no longer have a full-time, stay-at-home parent, our workplaces have not adjusted their policies to reflect what our families look like today. Today almost two-thirds of mothers work outside the home and the majority of families with children have all adults in the home working. This means that the family that has a full-time, stay-at-home caregiver is relatively uncommon. And four-in-ten working Latina wives earn as much or more than their husbands, so staying home is not only uncommon, it often isn’t financially an option.
Further, almost half of all Americans are unmarried, and many of them are single parents serving as the sole breadwinner for their children. Latina single mothers are more likely to be living in poverty than their white or African American counterparts, and access to workplace policies such as paid sick days are vital for families’ well-being. Losing even one day’s wages can have a significant impact, and in this economy most people cannot afford to risk losing their jobs.
The same patterns are true for workplace flexibility, that is, the ability to change one’s schedule or telecommute if necessary. Men, whites, and higher income workers are much more likely to have access to workplace flexibility than are other workers. At the bottom of the workplace flexibility ladder are Latinos, where only 44 percent can alter their schedules, and only 15 percent have the ability to change the location where they do their work.
Everybody gets sick sometimes, and the need to care for one’s family is not dependent on income. Our current system is unequal for too many people, and all too often it is women and people of color who are losing out.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Healthy Families Act, sponsored by Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) (and supported by President Obama) would allow workers to earn paid sick leave for when they or a family member were ill, or to deal with domestic violence.
There is legislation pending that would provide New Yorkers with paid sick days, but City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has so far refused to bring the bill up for a vote – in spite of the fact that there are enough supporters on the city council to override a (likely) veto from Mayor Bloomberg.
In this tough economy, workers cannot afford to lose their jobs just because they got the flu, or their child got the chicken pox. It is high time that our elected officials recognized the way that our work and home lives have changed, and started promoting policies that would help all of us juggle our different demands. Latino families are already struggling through record high levels of poverty and unemployment, and it is high time that we started implementing sensible policies that would help all of our families and businesses.
Sarah Jane Glynn is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan progressive think tank in Washington DC.