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New BLS Data Confirm Unequal Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

By Kevin Miller and Caroline Dobuzinskis

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on access to and use of paid leave by American workers. This is the first time the ATUS has included questions on leave-taking among American workers, with a module paid for by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The findings from the 2011 Leave Module of the ATUS reveal that many American workers lack access to paid leave from their jobs, though access varies by worker and occupational characteristics. Overall, 59 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid leave; 4 in 10 American workers lack access to paid leave. This reflects IWPR research analysis that found that 44 million workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave and that only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010.

Overall, the newly released BLS data on leave access and use by American workers confirm large disparities in access to and use of leave, especially paid leave. Workers with lower wages, Hispanic workers, workers in poorer health, and workers in jobs that put them in direct contact with the public (e.g., sales or hospitality workers) are less likely to have access to leave from their jobs and are more likely to lose pay when they do take leave.

Findings Show Large Gaps in Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

Men and women have similar rates of access to paid leave, with 60 and 58 percent of male and female workers with access to paid leave, respectively. The reasons for taking leave tend to differ between gender, with more women tending to take leave for illness or medical treatment for themselves or a family member.

Based on educational levels, there are large disparities in access to paid leave. Workers with college degrees are far more likely (72 percent) to have access to paid leave than workers without a high school diploma (35 percent). The BLS data also show large gaps in access between Hispanic and other workers. Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent). White, black, and Asian workers have similar rates of access to paid leave (59, 61, and 62 percent respectively).

Among full-time workers, those in the top quartile of earnings are the most likely to have access to paid leave (83 percent have access), while those in the lowest quartile are less likely (50 percent have access). Seventy-nine percent of workers in the financial industry have access to paid leave, while only 25 percent of those in the leisure and hospitality industries—which include food service—have access to paid leave. Workers in the private sector are less likely to have access to paid leave (57 percent) than are workers in the public sector (76 percent).

Taking Time Off Can Mean Lost Wages for Many Workers

Though over half of workers have access to some kind of paid leave, and 90 percent have access to either paid or unpaid leave, in an average week only 21 percent of workers took leave (including either vacation or sick time) according to the BLS.

Women, who tend to have more caregiving duties for children and older relatives, were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs during an average week (23 percent compared with 20 percent). Of women workers who took leave in an average week, 35 percent did so either to care for their own medical needs, for those of a family member or relative, or to provide elderly care or child care, compared with 25 percent of men who took leave for the same reasons.

Workers who characterized their health as fair or poor were somewhat less likely to take leave in an average week. But those who did were more likely to take unpaid leave compared with those who characterized their health as good. Sixty percent of workers in fair or poor health took unpaid leave, compared with 38 to 39 percent who characterized their health as good, very good, or excellent (most of whom took paid leave). IWPR’s analyses of the costs and benefits of paid sick days in several states and cities nationwide have found that access to paid sick days improves workers’ self-assessed health, reduces costly emergency department visits, and reduces health care costs to private and public insurers.

Reflecting the lack of access to paid leave in many service-oriented jobs, workers in management, business, and financial operations were much less likely to take unpaid leave compared with workers in service occupations (20 percent took unpaid leave compared with 66 percent). Of those workers in the leisure and hospitality industry who took leave in an average week, 86 percent took unpaid leave. Only 13 percent of workers in this industry took paid leave.

Mirroring the inequality in access to paid leave that exists across income levels, workers in the top quartile of earnings are twice as likely to have taken paid leave in an average week (82 percent) compared with workers in the lowest quartile of earnings (40 percent).

These new findings reaffirm the lack of equal access to paid leave that can leave many workers without economic or job security if an illness should arise for themselves or for a family member. Without access to paid leave, many workers simply cannot afford to take time off. Workers who are sometimes forced to work while ill tend to be those who are most likely to come into contact with the public and spread contagious illness. Women, often those caring for family members, tend to be disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and tend to have lower earnings than men.

Visit IWPR’s website for more information on IWPR’s research on paid sick days and the impact on paid sick days legislation on workers and businesses.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate and Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Being a Student Parent: My Experience and How Policy Is Improving for Student Parents Today

By Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon

As part of my work as a summer intern at IWPR I have had the privilege of working with the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI). The SPSI report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents (2011), reflects my personal obstacles to higher education. Lack of access to childcare was the sole reason I did not attend college earlier and it is the reason many student parents struggle to complete their education. I am an IWPR intern, a single mom, and a graduate student at the age of 42 because I could not do these things when my children were young. I am sharing my story here as a thanks to the SPSI team at IWPR for research that improves the lives of student parents. I hope this serves to add some personal context to the SPSI research.

Like many people, when I graduated high school I was unsure of the career I wanted to pursue. I decided some life and work experience would help me choose. For a year, I worked for a citizen lobby organization where I felt like the work I was doing was important and made a real difference. The job paid well (for a recent high school graduate) but there were no benefits as I was considered an independent contractor. Shortly after leaving that job, while working a part-time temp job, I discovered I was pregnant. I was 19 years old, had no secure, permanent job, and no health insurance. If I could find a job while pregnant, at that time, any health insurance company could consider my pregnancy a pre-existing condition and deny coverage. In 1996, the Health Insurance and Portability Act made it illegal to treat pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. At the time of pregnancy, Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (the AFDC program that was ended in 1996) were my only real options to provide for my child and pay for the costs of his birth and my prenatal care. I reluctantly accepted the assistance but planned to move on as soon as possible.

After the birth of my child I intended to get my college degree. I qualified for grants to pay tuition but I would need assistance paying for childcare. I was told that childcare assistance was available if I was working but not while in school. If I got a job to pay for childcare for the hours I was in class I would lose most of my state benefits since I would now have an income. The state would assume I could use this income to pay for food and living expenses so they would cut my aid and I would not have money to pay for childcare. I felt trapped; there was no way for me to get the education I needed to improve my life and that of my child. Mine is a story shared by many mothers. Those on assistance are often discouraged from pursuing education over employment. This prompted Diana Spatz to found LIFETIME, an organization allied with SPSI that helps student parents successfully achieve higher education.  You can read more about her story on the organization’s website.

The birth of my first child was over 20 years ago and I am currently taking classes towards my Ph.D. It took much longer than it should have to get here. I had to wait to begin until my son was in school, attend part-time, and rely on the help of student loans. At the completion of my doctorate degree I will be facing the repayment of those loans.  The SPSI project at IWPR has recently shed light on the debt burden of single student parents like myself in their fact sheet, Single Student Parents Face Financial Difficulties, Debt, Without Adequate Aid (May 2012). Among the research findings, single parents are much more likely to need financial aid to enroll in postsecondary education and are more likely than traditional students to say that financial difficulties are likely to result in their withdrawing from college. If they do it make it through, they often face staggering lingering debt: Single student parents have between 20 and 30 percent more student debt one year after graduation than other students. The figures are startling and I am glad that IWPR is making visible my lived experience.

In addition, IWPR recently released a fact sheet The Pregnancy Assistance Fund as a Support for Student Parents in Postsecondary Education (July 2012) that details two programs funded by the Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) to offer support to pregnant and parenting students. I could not be happier that programs are finally being created to help women in these circumstances. PAF is also part of legislation under the Affordable Care Act. We have a long way to go but this is encouraging progress.

It is my hope that this information will make an impact on policies and programs at the national, state and local levels and help other parents attend college. I am grateful for the opportunity to work for such a wonderful organization dedicated to improving women’s lives and to assist on a project to help students like myself. Thank you IWPR and the SPSI team!

Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Paid Sick Days Could Save Billions

This week, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released Paid Sick Days and Health: Cost Savings from Reduced Emergency Department Visits, in which my co-authors and I review findings about the connection between health and access to paid sick days, using publicly-available data from the National Health Interview Survey. Our analyses show that, even after controlling for variables like race, age, income, education, chronic health conditions, and access to health insurance, access to paid sick days is associated consistently with better health, greater likelihood of seeking out prompt medical care, and lower use of hospital emergency rooms.

It may surprise some people to learn that 44 million American employees cannot take a paid sick day. If they miss work due to illness or the illness of a family member, they lose pay—and if their employer is not the understanding type, they lose their job. These workers are also unlikely to be able to take time off work to go to a doctor’s office when sick or to obtain routine or preventative care. If they become ill or need an urgent appointment, they are more likely to end up at the emergency room than workers who have paid sick days.

Our analyses suggest that if all American workers had access to paid sick days, 1.3 million fewer emergency room visits would occur each year. Because primary care is significantly cheaper to provide than care in emergency rooms, reducing the use of emergency rooms means a significant savings, even if people still go to a primary care doctor: treating common conditions at a doctor’s office is, on average, over $800 cheaper per visit than treating those conditions in emergency rooms. That means that the 1.3 million fewer emergency room visits would save Americans $1.1 billion in health costs each year.

The findings from this week’s report only scratch the surface of the benefits of paid sick days for both individuals and society. There is every reason to expect that paid sick days produce a wide array of real benefits for workers, their families, their employers, and the public:

—Paid sick days make workers less likely to go to work while sick. This means a reduction in the spread of communicable disease to coworkers and the public. During the H1N1 pandemic, a lack of paid sick days contributed to millions of H1N1 infections, with untold costs for employers, workers, and the public.

—Paid sick days help workers maintain stable employment: they are less likely to voluntarily leave a job where they have paid sick days, and jurisdictions with paid sick days laws protect workers from being fired simply because they missed work for being sick. Reducing employee turnover reduces costs for employers, so everyone benefits.

—Paid sick days for the parents of schoolchildren make them less likely to send sick children to school, reducing the spread of disease to classmates and teachers and thus reducing absence. Paid sick days for parents may mean improved school outcomes for children.

Americans are paying $1.1 billion in preventable health costs every year for emergency room visits alone. The total price tag in dollars for the lack of paid sick days is larger than anyone has calculated, but the human costs are even larger: workers and families put off needed care until conditions worsen beyond the ability of doctors to treat; sick workers spread illness to coworkers and customers; and workers are fired for getting sick, putting them and their families at risk of poverty.

Individuals and organizations across the United States are working to promote paid sick days as a solution for these problems. Groups like Moms Rising, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and numerous state and local groups share the experiences of workers and their families—backed up by information from IWPR and other researchers—to convince legislators and the public that paid sick days are a policy that benefits everyone.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Bad Economics Meet Paid Sick Days in Philadelphia

by Robert Drago

A new study for the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) estimates that Philadelphia’s proposed paid sick days legislation would cost employers between $350 million and $752 million annually. Both the factual basis and the assumptions underlying this study are seriously flawed.

The totals derive from two presumed costs: the amount for new paid sick days coverage, estimated at between 34 and 42 cents per worker hour in direct labor costs, and 38 cents per worker hour in compliance costs for employees who already have paid sick days.

Consider the new paid sick days coverage. The NFIB study assumes workers will use all of the days allowed—9 days annually for larger employers, 5 days annually for small employers. Their figures imply an estimated overall average of 8.35 days per year. However, from a recent, random sample of employees in San Francisco, which has had similar requirements since 2007, the average employee uses 3 days per year. This estimate agrees well with IWPR analysis of national data from the National Health Interview Survey (3.1 days used on average). Given the fact that workers use only 3 days per year, new sick days costs are overestimated by 64 percent in the NFIB study. The actual hourly cost range, using NFIB’s methods, is thus about 12 to 15 cents per hour.

The second source of costs is compliance expenses for employers who already offer paid sick days. Although it is not known exactly how many days most employers in Philadelphia offer at present, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the national average is 8 days per year for private-sector employees with one year of job tenure. It seems reasonable to assume that employees in Philadelphia with access to paid sick time use around 3 days per year, as do workers in San Francisco. These statistics suggest that there is likely to be little or no additional paid sick days use by employees who already have access to paid sick days. While there might be some start-up costs to bring company policies in compliance with the law, these will be a one-time cost.

The NFIB, however, claims the annual compliance costs will be 38 cents per hour for employers that already provide paid sick days. At that rate, an employer would be hiring one full-time employee at $15 per hour to track paid sick days for every 40 current full-time employees (the result of dividing $15 by 38 cents). An hour per week per employee to track sick time use seems like a serious overstatement. If the task of monitoring sick days use after passage of the proposed law took one extra hour per week per 40 employees (who already had paid sick days before the law was passed), a more realistic estimate, compliance costs would fall to about one cent per hour.

Using the NFIB’s own methods, with known facts and more reasonable assumptions, the hourly costs for new coverage drop to 12 to 15 cents per hour, and the costs of compliance for employers already providing paid sick days drop to one cent per hour. This suggests a far lower cost for implementation of the law than the NFIB study states, especially for businesses that already provide employees with paid sick days or an equivalent benefit.

It is almost enough to give one pause over the objectivity of the entire NFIB study.

Robert Drago is the Director of Research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Uncle Sam Wants Your Help With Breastfeeding, Really

By Robert Drago, Ph.D.

Since March 23, 2010, when the President signed the Affordable Care Act, employers with at least 50 employees have been required to provide reasonable breaks for mothers of infants under one year of age to express breast milk.  They are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. The law only covers nonexempt employees (typically hourly, not salaried employees) and the Department of Labor (DOL) is charged with interpreting and enforcing the law. IWPR just a released a report indicating that the law will dramatically increase rates of breastfeeding among working moms.

Why would the DOL need your help?  Because the law applies to employers with at least 50 employees in any location. That includes a lot of small establishments owned by bigger entities, including many chain restaurants, convenience stores, chain hair salons and barber shops, construction companies, small retailers, all but the smallest of airlines, public transit authorities, sales offices, branch banks, and so forth. These employers do not have to provide permanent facilities, but once a woman requests breastfeeding breaks, a place must be provided, and the DOL is looking for inventive ideas for practices and places that will work. Tell us about what has worked in your experience or use your imagination!

Please email your ideas to Youngmin Yi at yi<at>iwpr<dot>org by January 30, and we will put together the best ideas, post them here on the FemChat blog, and send them to the DOL.

Smaller employers are exempt from the law if they can prove that following it would be an “undue burden.” So, the more great ideas we can generate to make the law work in small workplaces, the fewer small employers will ask for (or receive) exemptions, and more moms will finally be able to breastfeed and hold down a job.

Thanks for any help with this noble work!

Dr. Robert Drago, Ph.D., is Research Director with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Prior to joining IWPR, Dr. Drago held positions as Senior Economist in the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and Professor at the Pennsylvania State University in the departments of Women’s Studies and Labor Studies. He has published multiple articles and books, including his latest books Unlevel Playing Fields: Understanding Wage Inequality and Discrimination (3rd Edition) and Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life.

IWPR’s Top Five Findings of 2010

by Jennifer Clark

1.  The recent recession was not predominantly a “mancession.”

While men represented the majority of job losses during the recession, IWPR’s research shows that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed.  Another IWPR briefing paper examines how the “Great Recession” was an equal opportunity disemployer, doubling nearly every demographic group’s unemployment rate. In many families, women increasingly became the primary breadwinner, but they still spent more time in unpaid household labor than men. This imbalance of effort at home persists whether men are employed or not.

2. Only 12 percent of single mothers in poverty receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In the briefing paper, “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession,” IWPR shows that the numbers of single mothers in poverty receiving TANF assistance varies in the states. In Louisiana, only four percent of single mothers in poverty have TANF assistance. While in Washington, DC, the jurisdiction where impoverished mothers have the highest enrollment, still only 40 percent of single mothers receive any cash assistance through TANF.

3. Community colleges would need to increase the supply of child care on campus at least 10-fold to meet the current needs of students.

More than one-quarter of the students at community colleges have children, yet the supply of child care on campus does not meet the current needs of students. For many student parents, community college is an avenue to better jobs that allow them to support their families. As part of IWPR’s current project on post-secondary education, IWPR released a fact sheet in June, which noted that the proportion of community colleges providing on-campus care for the children of students decreased between 2001 and 2008, despite the great need.

4.  Young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men.

Reversing the progress made by earlier cohorts of young women entering the labor market, younger women today are now less likely to work in traditionally male and integrated occupations, which tend to pay better than traditionally female occupations. When told that traditionally male occupations pay more, women receiving workforce training said they would choose the higher paying job. In addition, women earn less than men in all but four of 108 occupational categories including in occupations-such as nursing and teaching-where women represent the majority of workers.

5. The majority of all likely voters support paid sick days.

IWPR’s new study shows that, while 69 percent of likely voters-including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents-endorse laws to provide paid sick days, two-fifths of all private sector workers lack this benefit. IWPR’s research also shows preventing workplace contagion of communicable diseases-such as influenza or H1N1-by providing paid sick days will save employers and the US economy millions of dollars.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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