By Robert Drago
Since the implementation of a paid sick days mandate in San Francisco, followed by Washington DC, and most recently the state of Connecticut, the popularity of paid sick days laws is growing. This has caused concern in the business community. In the latest salvo, Michael Saltsman discussed Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) findings regarding San Francisco’s experience with a paid sick days ordinance. The piece includes numerous mischaracterizations of the facts. Interpreting the Bureau of Labor Statistics finding that 80 percent of private sector employee have “some type of leave” as making up for paid sick days (only 62 percent have that), is misleading: vacations are typically scheduled weeks or months in advance; one’s own illness or that of a child usually cannot be scheduled. IWPR’s finding that only 3 percent of employers reported that fewer employees came to work while sick needs to be balanced against the 25 percent of employees who said that they were better able to care for their own or their families’ health needs. Among all demographic and racial/ethnic groups, black (29 percent), Latino (31 percent), low-wage (30 percent), women (27.5 percent), and workers over 55 (34 percent) were most likely to say they were better able to care for their own or their families’ health needs as a result of the paid sick days law.
The finding that 30 percent of low-wage employees reported adverse hours or layoffs effects also requires context: According to the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the city also raised the minimum wage and mandated health insurance around the same time as the paid sick days ordinance, and the expense of health insurance (particularly for low-wage employers) far outweighs any conceivable impact from paid sick days. Further, the surveys were administered late in 2009 (for employers) and early in 2010 (for employees), and those were not exactly great times for the U.S. economy.
Finally, the most important piece of context missing is that the median employee in San Francisco with paid sick days reported using three days per year. For someone working 5 days per week for 52 weeks per year, that represents 1.2 percent of annual earnings. That figure is around one-twentieth the size of the percentage increase in the federal minimum wage during and just after the Great Recession (rising from $5.85 to $7.25) and no serious economist believed that increase in labor costs had any ill effects on the economy. The ostensible “downside” of paid sick days discussed by Mr. Saltsman is in fact a mirage.
Dr. Robert Drago is the Director of Research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Prior to joining IWPR, Dr. Drago held positions as Senior Economist with the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress and Professor at the Pennsylvania State University in the departments of Women’s Studies and Labor Studies.