Tuesday, October 27, 2020

 By Tia Washum

To be a productive member of society, sometimes you must take care of yourself first. For some, this is nearly impossible. How can you care for yourself when you have limited resources and choices due to low wages and lack of benefits like paid leave? Imagine if, daily, you had to experience the constant questions: “How am I going to survive? How do I pay the rent? How do I afford gas for my car when my expenses are higher than my paycheck?”

Some of our neighbors exist; they do not really get an opportunity to live. Daily life is full of uncertainty, and emotions range from terror to depression.

What does it mean for our neighbors to be unable to take a vacation or paid sick day? Members of our community are scared or unable to take a time off in high-stress, low-paying jobs. Paid time off is necessary for healthy work-life balance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than half of leisure and hospitality worker have paid vacation time. In Indiana, nearly one in three workers lacks paid sick days. Even when some workers have paid time off, they may be unable to use it because they depend on overtime and fear falling behind because they live from paycheck to paycheck or the culture at their work doesn't support it. As many as 55% of Americans report do not use their vacation time. That needs to change.

Why does America spend more money on health care per person than other countries, but still our American people are struggling - especially people of color and low-income individuals? The United States actually performs worse than other comparable countries on some common health metrics like how long people live, how many infants die, and how many people struggle with diabetes and other health issues. Paid leave is part of the answer. When workers do not have the leave they need -- most often because they could not afford unpaid leave -- they may defer or forego necessary medical treatment. Paid leave also increases rates and duration of breastfeeding, improves rates of on-time vaccination, reduces infant hospital admissions, and reduces the odds of a new mother experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and improves new mothers’ health. 

Paid leave should be available to support mental health, too, especially in caregiving occupations. When you give so much of yourself in your work, you need time to replenish or else you will be empty. Businesses want productivity; they need to be willing to give opportunities to recharge and renew motivation. Paid leave has been shown to prevent employees from quitting and increases their loyalty to their place of employment.
Paid leave can add to quality of life for individuals and our communities as a whole. So why isn’t it available to all in Indiana? Is it because our policymakers are not affected by this issue that has the American people in disarray or is it that our policymakers just will not come together for one moment to make a healthy choice for our American citizens? Life on life’s terms will continue to show up. We can’t control what life brings, but we can control policy. We need leaders who will step up and make paid leave a priority.

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