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As Foreign-Born Worker Population Grows, 63 Percent Lack Paid Sick Days

As the nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, an analysis of immigrant workers’ access to paid sick days calls for renewed attention to the working conditions of a group central to American society. The report, released today by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), finds that foreign-born workers have significantly less access to paid sick days than their native-born counterparts.
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Jul 03, 2014

As the nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, an analysis of immigrant workers’ access to paid sick days calls for renewed attention to the working conditions of a group central to American society. The report, released today by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), finds that foreign-born workers have significantly less access to paid sick days than their native-born counterparts.

“There’s no better time than the Fourth of July to reflect on the fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants,” said Liz Ben-Ishai, policy analyst at CLASP and co-author of the report. She added, “Given the importance of foreign-born workers to our economy and social fabric, we must ensure they have basic protections on the job, including paid sick days.”

Experts agree that ensuring workers have access to paid sick days is critical to public health and safety, as well as the economic security of working families and the nation. Yet the CLASP/IWPR report finds that 63 percent of workers who have migrated to the U.S.—often to fuel the country’s economic engine—lack a single paid sick day. Too often, these workers must choose between their families’ health and their economic livelihood, with many losing wages or even their jobs if they take time to care for a sick child or recover from illness.

“Research shows greater access to paid sick days leads to reduced health care costs for workers, reduced contagion in the workplace, and lower turnover costs for employers,” said Jeffrey Hayes, IWPR study director and co-author of the report.  “From a public health standpoint, it is essential that workers, both foreign- and native-born, are able to stay home or seek health care for themselves or their children when they are sick.”

Certain categories of foreign-born workers are least likely to have access to paid sick days—and these are often workers that are already economically disadvantaged in other ways. Few foreign-born low-wage workers have access to sick days, but they are the population least able to afford losing a day’s wages or their jobs in order to take time to recover from illness. Among the lowest-wage workers (those making less than $15,000 per year), just 26 percent have access to paid sick days—ten percent less than the lowest-wage native-born workers. Less than half of Immigrant workers making between $15,000 and $34,999 per year have access to paid sick days—15 percent fewer than native-born workers in the same income bracket.

Hispanic immigrant workers are also considerably less likely to have sick days. About 41 percent of foreign-born Hispanic workers have paid sick days, compared with 58 percent of native-born Hispanics.  Hispanic immigrant workers—a rapidly growing population—are also more likely to have low wages and lack health care and retirement benefits, according to other recent research.

This new analysis of foreign-born workers’ access to paid sick days highlights the need for laws guaranteeing all workers access to paid sick days. Fortunately, the movement to pass such laws at the state and local levels is gaining momentum; already, seven localities and one state have passed paid sick days laws, and state and local campaigns to pass new laws are active across the country. Federal legislation that would extend this labor standard to all U.S. workers, the Healthy Families Act, has been introduced in Congress.

Ben-Ishai added, “These findings add yet another data point to the wealth of evidence showing the need for paid sick days laws, which the majority of Americans support.  Now it’s time for Congress and state and local governments to act.”

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