Paid Sick Days, a Luxury in the U.S.

Heather Boushey explains the difficulties that most parents in the United States face as over 6 in 10 workers do not have the right to stay home with a sick child.

Most parents in the United States have to work. To be more precise, only three out of 10 children have a stay-at-home parent. But as the recent H1N1 flu outbreak underscored, this can have serious public health implications since many of those working parents simply do not have the right to stay home with a sick child.

“Twenty-two million working women don’t have a single paid sick day. That means they lose money any time they have to stay home to take care of their kids,’’ First Lady Michelle Obama said in a speech on May 7, at the eighth annual meeting of Corporate Voices for Working Families.

Mrs. Obama’s speech came on the heels of weeks of national worry over the possibility of a global flu pandemic. As hundreds of schools closed across the nation, parents struggled to sort out their options. For many families, the best choice was unclear: should they risk their job, or risk having their child catch the flu or spread it to other children?

In the U.S., unlike nearly every other nation, workers do not have the right to stay home if they are ill. Currently, nearly half of private-sector workers have no paid sick days. For low-income workers, the number jumps to 79 percent, and climbs to 85 percent for food service workers.

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Heather Boushey

Former Economist

Member of the Council of Economic Advisers and Chief Economist to the Invest in America Cabinet