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IWPR Recommends Thorough Assessment of DC’s Paid Sick Leave Law

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

In honor of Labor Day and the 44 million workers around the country who lack paid sick leave, IWPR released a briefing paper that recommends the Auditor of the District of Columbia conduct a thorough and complete review that shows the impact of the city’s paid sick leave policy. In March 2008, the District of Columbia joined San Francisco to become only the second jurisdiction in the United States to pass a paid sick days law. Reviewing the law for the breadth of its impact on businesses, workers, and the economy, is important as legislation moves forward in other parts of the country.

Since the passage of the DC paid sick days law, the city of Seattle and the state of Connecticut also added legislation to provide workers with paid sick days. Seattle’s paid sick leave law was actually implemented over this Labor Day weekend. Other state and city jurisdictions across the country are considering similar paid sick days legislation since access to paid sick leave can be crucial for helping workers maintain their health and well-being.

Access to paid sick days is important for working families and especially important for women since they tend to be primary caregivers for children and elderly relatives. When a child needs to stay home from work because of the flu, it is important that a worker be able to securely afford the time off to be a caregiver.

DC’s was the first law to require provisions for victims of domestic violence to seek aid or services. Time off accrued under the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act can also be utilized to seek medical, legal or other services to address domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

As one of the pioneering cities to pass a law requiring paid sick days for its workers, DC may serve as an example for other jurisdictions considering similar laws. According to research from IWPR, there are significant benefits to having paid sick days laws that impact employees, the general public, and businesses. Based on a survey of workers and employers in San Francisco who were affected by that city’s paid sick leave law, IWPR found that two-thirds of businesses supported the law. IWPR research analyses have also shown that workers who have access to paid sick days tend to have better self-reported health.

Under the current DC paid sick days law, the Auditor of the District of Columbia is required to conduct a review, based on an audit sample of District businesses, to ensure that the law is being properly implemented and that employers are not circumventing requirements through hiring patterns. But to meet the end goal of the Auditor’s report, which is to assess the economic effects of the law on the private sector, IWPR recommends a more complete assessment.

IWPR recommends that the Auditor undertake a survey of workers and employers to ensure that compliance is being undertaken. A survey of workers would help to get the full story on how well the law has been implemented or its effectiveness in covering workers who may need to take time off when they or a family member is ill. This survey would also help determine if workers are aware of the law. In surveying workers for an assessment of San Francisco’s paid sick leave legislation, IWPR found that many workers covered under the city’s paid sick leave law were not aware of it.

Also, IWPR recommends that the Auditor take advantage of data sources that already exist that can provide evidence of any net effect of the law on the number of businesses and employees in the District. Finally, IWPR recommends the creation of an advisory committee with experts on paid sick leave, lending greater context and better evaluation to the study.

The steps recommended in IWPR’s briefing paper could help to create a more effective and comprehensive assessment of DC’s Accrued Leave and Safe Leave Act that would serve as a model for other cities. Understanding how the law will is being implemented will demonstrate its full impact beyond the books, serving as a living example for other cities to help improve health and well being of their workers.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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.

The Recession and Older Americans

by Betsy Keating

According to recent Senate testimony from a panel of experts, older Americans are under enormous financial strain and would be severely impacted by cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare. A participant in a program for employing older Americans also gave moving testimony on the difficulties older Americans have in entering the job market.

Raising Public Awareness on the Struggles of Older Americans

On Tuesday October 18, IWPR President Heidi Hartmann testified on a panel entitled “The Recession and Older Americans: Where Do We Go from Here” before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) began the hearing by stressing his desire to raise public awareness of seniors’ struggles in the recession and recovery, particularly regarding their employment prospects and income levels as well as the role of Social Security in their lives.

In her testimony, Barbara Bovbjerg, Managing Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), shared findings from a GAO report on the income security of older Americans between 2007 and 2009. While those over 55 years old are less likely to lose their job than those in other age groups, those who do lose their job have a much harder time in seeking reemployment. The median duration of unemployment for those aged 55 to 64 nearly tripled between 2007 and 2010, from 11 weeks to 31 weeks.

Recession Has Increased Reliance on Social Security

Dr. Hartmann further elaborated on the challenges facing older Americans, drawing on IWPR’s most recent reports that present findings from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security. Because of the recession and extended unemployment spells, more older workers are drawing on their retirement savings or other assets to survive, leading to a precarious outlook for their futures. Indeed, the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey found that many more men and women now express “a lot” or “a fair amount” of worry about having enough to provide for their retirement years than in 2007.

Older Americans Facing Daily Challenges to Make Ends Meet

Senator Sanders asked the panelists to address the human elements of the statistics by focusing on the daily detrimental effects of unemployment, income loss, and asset depletion for seniors. Gail Ruggles, a Vermont resident and participant in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), shared her own personal story, poignantly describing the daily struggles of many older workers and the lasting impact that government programs can provide.

In 2008, Ms. Ruggles was juggling five part-time jobs. “My financial situation was awful; no matter how hard I tried on my own, I couldn’t make ends meet,” she said. “I was frustrated and knew I needed help.” After joining SCSEP in 2009, a program authorized by the Older Americans Act originally passed in 1965, Ms. Ruggles found the help she needed; SCSEP placed her in a job at a local non-profit, where she gained valuable job training. This position opened doors to further employment opportunities and gave Ms. Ruggles a sense of confidence in her own abilities to succeed on the job.

With training and skills from SCSEP, Ms. Ruggles now has a full-time position, has begun contributing to a 401(k), and has helped support her two children through college. Not only did SCSEP offer an avenue for her to reenter the workforce, it also gave her the ability to provide for her children’s education and general well-being, something she felt would have been impossible given her financial outlook in 2008.

As Senator Al Franken (D-MN) noted, SCSEP, like many programs authorized under the Older Americans Act, grants older workers a “hand-up” rather than a “hand-out,” allowing them to continue in the labor force and maintain self-sufficiency.

Support Programs Essential to Keep Seniors Above the Poverty Line

For Ms. Ruggles, and many like her, the Older Americans Act has been a key component in regaining a sense of economic security. Other panelists, including Dr. Hartmann, echoed this sentiment in their testimony by stressing the key role of the government in protecting the livelihood and dignity of seniors.

While many seniors are currently experiencing great hardship, their lives would be far worse without the safety net of Social Security and other public assistance programs. Dr. Hartmann pointed out that among those aged 65 and older, one-third of men and half of women rely on Social Security for 80 percent or more of their income.

Without Social Security benefits, many more seniors would fall below the poverty line and be unable to meet their basic needs. Both Senators Franken and Sanders emphasized the importance of continued support from the federal government for seniors, citing the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and protection of Social Security benefits as crucial means to ensure their economic security.

Betsy Keating is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

WSJ Op-ed Misses On Paid Sick Days

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.

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