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The Reality of Paid Sick Days

One of the things I love about IWPR is the types of issues we work on. The subjects we conduct our research on are real, everyday issues that most women face. They’re not always the sexiest, most talked-about, hottest topics, but that’s what makes them even more important, because they can be easily overlooked. I’m talking about issues like retirement security, access to quality child care, and paid sick days.
I tutor an 11-year old child once a week. A few months ago, my student’s mother found a job as a guard in an office building. She’d been job hunting for a while, and as a single parent with three kids, she was very happy to have found this position.
When I saw my student last week, he had a cold. His nose was dripping, he was coughing and sneezing, and he kept getting up to either blow or stuff tissue up his nose, in order to stop the flow. After a while, he got fed up and started grousing (who wouldn’t?)

“I don’t wanna go to school tomorrow,” he whined.
“Well, you really shouldn’t go; you sound terrible, and you’re obviously sick,” I told him.
“But I have to go,” he said, sighing.
“Why?” I asked reasonably.
“Because, I can’t stay by myself, and my mom can’t take off work to stay at home with me” he explained. “See, if she stays at home with me, there won’t be as much money for stuff, like our house and everything.”

Here was this 11-year old child’s reality. He sat there, battling a cold, possibly a fever or the flu, and he’d already made up his mind that he’s going to school. Why? Because being sick means less money for his family. His health has a direct economic impact on his household. And he knows this; he more than knows it; it’s part of his life and part of what’s real for him.
This is what we’re trying to get lawmakers to see, to pay attention to. We’re right in the middle of flu season, and 22 million women workers don’t have a single paid sick day . What does this mean? If a woman with no paid sick days gets sick and must stay at home, she takes a pay cut. If she’s lucky, she won’t lose her job for not being able to work. And it affects more than just her. If one of her children gets sick; if her elderly parent she’s caring for gets sick, she has to take a pay cut.
It’s so easy to disengage, to not pay attention. I can’t even accuse myself of being unrealistic – my reality is different from my student’s. I’m not guilty of refusing to listen, just for not paying more attention. Those of us who can absolutely must make those in power listen to this reality.
Dr. Heidi Hartmann, President of IWPR, testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this past Tuesday on the Healthy Families Act. By paying attention and making this reality known to policymakers, we can all help alter the reality that is true for too many American women.
– Amy Lin

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