The global pandemic caused by COVID-19, also commonly referred to as coronavirus, has revealed a number of systemic flaws in the United States that must be addressed, including paid leave. While the nature of this medical crisis draws attention to the lack of paid sick leave, paid family leave is a benefit that should also be universal. Statistics reveal the huge gap in this country in access to paid leave that reveal the adverse effects on women in particular, especially in the midst of a crisis such as COVID-19.

Seven in ten of the lowest income workers do not have the ability to take even one day of paid sick leave, and greater than 25 percent of private sector employees can’t afford to take one day off either. Overall, the United States has over 32 million workers who are unable to access paid sick leave. These staggering numbers also disproportionately affect women and people of color. For example, 48 percent of Latinx workers and 36 percent of black workers reportedly have no paid leave of any kind.

In a 2017 report by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), 68 percent of low-wage workers who make less than $11 are women; unsurprisingly, black and Latinx women overrepresent low wage workers. Thirty-five percent of the workforce overall in the United States have at least one child at home while 25 percent of women in the lowest wage workforce have at least one child at home as well. Even when there is not a global pandemic, women have challenges accessing food security and economic stability. In a time where schools are closing, and companies and organizations are being mandated to keep crowds down and people at home, women are facing more struggles to feed their families and keep their families–and themselves–safe.

These reports of the lack of paid leave in the U.S. are problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the public health risk this poses. Due to fear of workplace discipline or fear of losing their jobs, workers without access to paid sick leave are 1.5 times more likely than those with paid sick leave to go to work while sick, such as with the flu or a viral infection. Employees in professions who interact with the public frequently, like workers in food service or child care, are often the ones who have the least access to paid sick leave. These employees are more likely to both be exposed to a contagious illness as well as spread a contagious illness. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the general flu rate in areas with paid sick leave legislation decreased by 5.5 percent. Lack of paid leave poses a public health risk.

Ultimately, there is an abundance of research clearly showing the benefits that paid family leave has on the economy as a whole as well as for employees. The research clearly supports that low-income women are disproportionately affected by the absence of paid family leave in the United States.

Sources: National Partnership for Women and Families, 2/20; National Women’s Law Center, 8/17; Ms. Magazine, 3/12/20.

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