For Immediate Release

Even One Unpaid Sick Day Puts Low-Wage Workers’ Economic Security at Risk

WASHINGTON - New EPI research finds that taking unpaid sick days can costs low-wage workers their basic needs. Only 27 percent of private sector low-wage workers have access to paid sick days, compared to 87 percent of the highest paid workers in the private sector.

EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould and Research Assistant Jessica Schieder illustrate the benefit of providing paid sick days by showing the cost of taking unpaid sick days compares to a typical family’s monthly expenditures. If a low-wage worker takes off even a half a day due to illness, their lost wages are equivalent to their household’s monthly spending for fruits and vegetables. Taking two unpaid sick days is worth more than the equivalent of gas. And lost wages from taking off three days equal their entire grocery budget, health care, or utilities bill.

“Greater access to paid sick days would give American working families more economic security,” said Gould. “The income security provided by paid sick days allows workers to recover from an illness without having to sacrifice basic needs like food and gas.”


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Over the last several years, seven states and 32 localities have passed laws to grant workers paid sick days, which has led to an increase in low-wage workers receiving paid sick days nationally. The overall trend was most pronounced in the Pacific region, where the percentage of private-sector workers with access to paid sick days increased from 63 to 73 percent during this period (as compared to an increase from 61 to 64 percent nationwide). The increase was sharper in 2016, the first full year in which paid sick days were in effect in California and Oregon. In July, paid sick days laws will go into effect in Arizona, Cook County and Chicago, Illinois, and Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Even though more and more states and municipalities are implementing paid sick days legislation, millions of workers are being left unprotected,” said Schieder. “Congress should pass federal paid sick days legislation because families in every city and state deserve economic stability.”


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The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit Washington D.C. think tank, was created in 1986 to broaden the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers. Today, with global competition expanding, wage inequality rising, and the methods and nature of work changing in fundamental ways, it is as crucial as ever that people who work for a living have a voice in the economic discourse.

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