Hoosiers Need Paid Sick Days - Now, and For Our Future
coronavirus cases rapidly emerging across the United States, health officials
are advising workers to stay home when symptomatic. That advice is much easier
to follow if you have paid sick days.
United States is an outlier when it comes to paid leave. Nationally,
policymakers have set no baseline standards for what employers should offer.
And while some employers recognize that it is not to their benefit for sick
employees to come to work for a variety of reasons – including that employees
are less productive and could infect fellow employees and clients – far too
many still do not. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data
(2019), about one in four workers nationally - and as many as one in three
workers in Indiana – do not earn paid sick days. This is likely because, unlike
a number of other states, Indiana has not stepped up to set minimum standards
on this front. Digging deeper, the statistics on who does and does not earn
paid sick days becomes even more problematic: fewer than half of workers in the
lowest wage quartile – often, the people who care for children and the elderly,
prepare food, or handle transactions at a cash register and also the people who
can least afford to go without a paycheck – lack the ability to earn paid sick
workers lack paid sick days, they are far more likely to go to work sick. In
one Center for Disease Control study, nearly sixty percent of workers who
prepare food reported going to work sick. Parents with sick kids and no paid
sick leave are much more likely to send those kids to school when they are
contagious, or to take them to emergency rooms rather than doctors’ offices for
treatment. They do so for good reason: beyond an inability to pay the bills
without a paycheck, nearly one in four workers without paid sick days have
reported either losing a job or being threatened with job loss as a result of
needing time off.
payroll tax holiday will not encourage workers to stay home when they are ill. Reducing
the amount of wages withheld from a paycheck only works for those who continue
to earn a paycheck, and it disproportionately benefits higher-income earners. Even for
those workers, though, the boost would be relatively small. A generous payroll
tax cut of 5% would provide only $80/month to someone earning $20,000 per year.
Meanwhile, a worker earning $100,000 would receive over $400/month, and people
without earnings – either because they are sick or caring for a loved one –
would receive nothing at all.
Instead, policymakers should be
looking at approaches to shore up the lost wages of workers who must stay home
but cannot do their work there. Disproportionately, these are Black and
Hispanic or Latino workers. They are workers without a bachelor’s degree. They
are workers who lack savings and are one lost paycheck away from a financial
downward spiral. They need robust support quickly, not the trickle of reduced
taxes on diminished or nonexistent paychecks.
This crisis will eventually pass,
and families will fare better or worse depending on our policy responses. I
hope we make smart decisions to meet this moment, and then learn from it to
bolster our policy framework for the future. People will continue to get sick,
and a single illness shouldn’t wipe out a family’s financial future. It is time toset a minimum
national standard for paid sick days in the United States.