Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

A Rising Tide: How your neighbor’s paid sick days protect your quality of life — and economic opportunity for all

While “I’ve got mine” is an easy attitude to cop, there’s evidence that getting ahead alone isn’t as beneficial to you as making sure others can do the same. The national discussion over a minimum paid sick days work standard offers insight into why that is the case.

First, consider this question posed by Scope (the Stanford School of Medicine blog) about paid sick days and the public good:

I live in a small house with eight friends, six chickens and a puppy. When one of us gets sick, many others follow suit. (So far, we’ve avoided any cross-species bugs.) Over the last few weeks, a nasty cold made the rounds, prompting an informal discussion about when it’s appropriate to miss work: If you’re not feeling well, is it best for some general good to stay home or trudge to the office, red nose and handkerchief in tow? That question, of course, assumes an individual has the luxury of considering the greater good.

It turns out that “considering the greater good” is indeed a luxury for many workers, especially since very few low-wage workers have the opportunity to earn paid sick days on the job. And that has a very direct impact on the family budget. As Mary Olivella notes on the MomsRising blog:

Certainly there are many factors that contribute to health disparities in our nation, yet insufficient attention is given to the link between health disparities and the fact that 79% percent of low wage workers do not have the ability to earn paid sick days. … Mothers in particular are severely affected given that women comprise the majority of low wage earners and continue to bear the primary responsibility for child rearing.

Consider this study that looked at closures of day care facilities and schools due to influenza outbreaks: in such situations, 64% of Hispanic parents and 56% of African American parents said that they would likely lose income and have money problems compared to 34% of white parents. Projections of job or business loss due to such school closures were also higher for Hispanic and African American parents, 49% and 40% respectively, as compared to 14% of white parents.

This kind of inequality of economic opportunity should give us pause — not just because it’s bad for those workers and families, but because as MedicineNet reports, growing inequality results in a diminished quality of life for rich and poor alike:

American and Japanese researchers analyzed data on about 60 million people in 30 developed countries who took part in previous studies and found that those living in areas with a large income inequality gap are more likely to die at a younger age, regardless of their income, socioeconomic status, age and gender. [emphasis added]

According to the study authors, from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Yamanashi, although “the results suggest a modest adverse effect of income inequality on health, this impact might be larger if the association was truly causal.” The findings, published online Nov. 11 in BMJ, have important policy implications because “income inequality is an exposure that applies to society as a whole,” the researchers noted.

A minimum work standard for paid sick days standard won’t just help protect our own physical health, and that of our families and colleagues. It will help restore the promise of the American dream by protecting economic opportunity for all.

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