5 Things to Know in Advance of Tonight’s Debate

In advance of tonight’s first presidential debate, IWPR helps you get up to speed on these five top women’s policy issues:

  1. Improving Women’s Access to Good Jobs Can Narrow the Wage Gap
  2. A College Affordability Challenge: Declining Availability of Campus Child Care
  3. The Significance of the Gender Wage Gap; Wages among Women of Color are Especially Low
  4. Breadwinner Mothers are Common in Every State, but Policies Need to Catch Up
  5. The Evidence-Based Case for Paid Sick Days and Paid Leave Policies


1. Improving Women’s Access to Good Jobs Can Narrow the Wage Gap

>> Read the report, Pathways to Equity: Narrowing the Wage Gap by Improving Women’s Access to Good Middle-Skill Jobs or the Executive Summary. 

Half of the gender wage gap is due to women working in different occupations and sectors than men. Improving women’s access to good middle-skill jobs—in growing sectors, such as manufacturing, IT, and transportation—can help close the wage gap and improve women’s economic security.


Click to visit womenandgoodjobs.org

Visit womenandgoodjobs.org, to read the report and explore an interactive, searchable database of middle-skills jobs, which helps users identify pools of skilled women workers who could be tapped to fill shortages, ensuring that the economy benefits from the talent of its whole workforce.

2. A College Affordability Challenge: Declining Availability of Campus Child Care

>> Read the briefing paper, Child Care for Parents in College: A State-by-State Assessment

As nearly 5 million undergraduate students raising children return to college this fall, a new IWPR state-by-state and national analysis finds that campus child care is declining in 36 states across the country, and that many states have rules making it difficult for students to get child care subsidies.

For the nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) student parents living in or near poverty, paying for child care can be an insurmountable obstacle. IWPR’s analysis finds that, rather than assisting students with the high cost of child care, 11 states require college students to also be employed to be eligible for child care subsidies. In 3 states—Arizona, Kentucky, and Washington—parents are required to work at least 20 hours per week in addition to attending school, an amount proven to diminish rates of college completion among students overall, in order to be eligible for subsidies.

3. The Significance of the Gender Wage Gap; Wages among Women of Color are Especially Low

>> Read IWPR’s New Resources on Pay Equity & Discrimination, including Five Ways to Win an Argument about the Gender Wage Gap

IWPR’s updated fact sheet clarifies the most common myths about gender wage gap statistics. IWPR’s researchers note that a pay gap of 79.6 percent accurately describes the pay inequality between men and women in the labor force and reflects a variety of different factors, including: discrimination in pay, recruitment, job assignment, and promotion; lower earnings in occupations mainly done by women; and women’s disproportionate share of time spent on family care, including that they—rather than fathers—still tend to be the ones to take more time off work when families have children.

In fact, the annual wage ratio of 80 percent is actually a moderate estimate of gender pay inequality. Women of color fare much worse, with Black women making 63.3 percent of what White men earn per year and Hispanic women making 54.4 percent.


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In addition, IWPR has found:

  • Women earn less than men in almost every occupation and are four times more likely than men to work in jobs with poverty-level wages.
  • If current trends continue, women will not receive equal pay until 2059, according to a related IWPR analysis of trends in earnings since 1960.
  • If women earned the same as comparable men—men who are of the same age, have the same level of education, work the same number of hours, and have the same urban/rural status—poverty among working women would be cut in half and the US economy would grow by $482.2 billion.

4. Breadwinner Mothers are Common in Every State, but Policies Need to Catch Up

>> Read the quick figures, Breadwinner Mothers by Race/Ethnicity and State

A new IWPR national and state-by-state analysis of breadwinner moms finds that four in five Black mothers and two in three Native American mothers are breadwinners, compared with fewer than half of White and Asian/Pacific Islander mothers. Breadwinner moms are either raising children on their own or contributing at least 40 percent of a married couple’s earnings. The majority of Black, Native American, and Hispanic breadwinner moms are single and raising a family on their own, while the majority of White and Asian/Pacific Islander breadwinner mothers are married.

As the share of breadwinner mothers increases, another IWPR analysis found that women’s wages fell 1.6 percent between 2004 and 2014, with Black, Native American, and Hispanic women’s earnings falling around three times as much as women’s earnings overall. (Read the analysis with state data for Black women and Native American women.)

5. The Evidence-Based Case for Paid Sick Days and Paid Leave Policies

>> Read the briefing paper, Paid Sick Days Benefit Employers, Workers, and the Economy

Four in 10 American workers lack access to paid sick days, with access less likely among Hispanic workers and workers in low-wage and food service jobs. A recent IWPR briefing paper compiles all available social science and policy research, which show that paid sick days are associated with benefits to employers—including reduced contagion in the workplace, improved productivity, decreased workplace injuries, and lower employee turnover—and employment benefits to workers, including greater job stability and labor force attachment.

>> Read the report, Paid Parental Leave in the United States: What the Data Tell Us about Access, Usage, and Economic and Health Benefits

Another IWPR report compiles available research and data on the access to paid parental leave and the benefits of such a policy. A growing body of research suggests that paid family leave increases labor market attachment, economic security, and the health and welfare of families and children, and has the potential to help businesses thrive, reduce spending on public benefits programs, and promote economic growth and competitiveness.

Follow @IWPResearch on Twitter and Facebook.

Why paid leave in DC would be more affordable than you think

by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.

At a hearing on January 14, the D.C. City Council heard from a number of researchers who testified about the estimated cost of implementing the proposed Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. By allowing up to 16 weeks of paid leave, D.C.’s proposal is very generous—by U.S. standards—and has attracted national attention. The researchers’ cost estimates ranged from $281 million to upwards from $1 billion annually.  Why such a large range? As is often the case with economic analysis, the devil is in the details, or more specifically, the assumptions.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) estimated the cost would be at the low end, $280.8 million, affordable enough to be covered by less than one percent of payroll. IWPR’s testimony was based on an economic model that has been developed across 15 years and is the only estimate presented to the D.C. Council that relies on the best available data on who takes leave and for how long.

The higher estimates from the other researchers—who have expertise on taxes and regional business,  not paid leave—fail to take age, gender, and income sufficiently into account. As a result, they assume that many more workers would take leave and would take substantially more leave under the DC program than they do now. These are not reasonable assumptions.

First, let’s consider who will take leave through the public program. Almost every employee at some point in his or her work life experiences an extended own illnesses, the serious illness of a loved one, or the birth or adoption of a child, but typically not all in the same year and certainly not every year. In a single year, about 11 percent of District workers take some form of leave. Around two-thirds of leaves currently taken in DC are for one’s own illness; one in four leaves are to care for other family members; and, perhaps surprisingly, the lowest share of leaves taken (13 percent) are maternity and bonding leaves. We estimate the number of these leaves will increase under the Council’s program, but not drastically.

The proposed DC bill provides full wage replacement for workers earning less than $52,000 per year, and partial wage replacement for higher earners. Importantly, nearly half of DC workers have earnings over $52,000 and would receive less than full wage replacement; they may look to their employers, not the program, for the full wage replacement to which they have become accustomed.

Next, researchers must make a reasonable assumption for how long worker leaves will be under the new program. IWPR’s model predicts a moderate increase in the length of leave—from 3 weeks to 4 weeks at the median—again, not a drastic increase. Half of workers taking leave would be expected to take 4 weeks or less.

While the proposed bill increases access to paid leave, especially to low-wage and part-time workers, job protection for taking leave would still not cover those employed by smaller establishments with fewer than 20 employees. Rhode Island, which recently implemented paid leave, found that over 40 percent of leave takers said they would not have used the program were it not for the job protection, indicating how highly workers value the right to return to their jobs.

There are many other reasons for workers not to take the full leaves for which they are eligible, including the reluctance to fall behind at work and the desire to advance in their career. Research on paid sick days has shown that, even when workers report that they have paid sick days, the typical worker misses only two days of work in a given year.

The final assumption to consider is crucial: what will men do when offered paid leave? Men are half of the city’s potential leave-taking workforce. If men are offered greater access to paid leave, will they take it—and take the full amount—to bond with a new child or to care for a sick relative? In the first ten years of California’s paid family leave program, men’s proportion of leaves taken for family reasons climbed from 17 percent in 2005 to 30 percent in 2013. In Norway, where leave is nearly fully paid and taking leave is less stigmatized, only 21 percent of fathers took the maximum that was available to them in 2012.

Perhaps one of the most unrealistic assumptions made when estimating the costs of paid leave is that we live in a world where men are equally as likely as women to take leave for caregiving. By guaranteeing paid leave for all workers, we may get there one day.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is the president and founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a DC-based think tank. She is an economist and received a MacArthur Fellowship for her work on women in the workforce.

Pioneering Research on the Costs and Benefits of Paid Family Leave

By Jeff Hayes, Ph.D.

Since its founding, IWPR has studied the costs and benefits of American workers’ access to leave for childbirth, personal health needs, or family caregiving. IWPR’s inaugural publication, Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave  showed that by not recognizing the need for work-life balance, established policies not only failed to support workers and their families, but were costly to taxpayers. The study’s findings informed the passage of job-protected, unpaid leave in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Expanding beyond unpaid leave, IWPR studied the possibility of providing paid family leave by enhancing Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) programs operating in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island in a fact sheet describing the program and in a paper presented at the American Economic Association in 1995. Since that time, three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island— have implemented paid family leave expansions.


More recently, IWPR worked in conjunction with the Labor Resource Center (LRC) at the University of Massachusetts–Boston to develop a flexible econometric model for estimating the costs and benefits of paid family and medical leave insurance proposals. The original IWPR/LRC Family and Medical Leave Cost Simulation Model used data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2000 FMLA survey and the March Current Population Survey (CPS), and incorporates the unique features of various proposed programs, from waiting periods to eligibility criteria. This IWPR/LRC model has been used to estimate the costs and benefits of proposed paid family leave legislation in several states: Massachusetts, New Mexico, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington.

This year, the model was used by IWPR to study the costs and benefits of paid leave in the District of Columbia in collaboration with D.C.’s Department of Employment Services. The analysis was part of a recent family of studies funded by the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. DOL to inform the development or implementation of paid family and medical leave programs at the state level. The research continues to show that providing leave benefits under alternative policy designs could provide substantial benefits at relatively low cost. Early results were used by members of the D.C. City Council for a proposal to provide up to 16 weeks of partially paid leave for employees of private employers in the District of Columbia and allow D.C. residents working for the federal government or employers outside of the District to opt in. The legislation, if it passes, could be the most generous paid leave policy in the country.

Beginning in 2014, IWPR and IMPAQ International have been working under contract with the Department of Labor’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Chief Evaluation Office to update the IWPR/LRC simulation model to base leave-taking behaviors on the 2012 FMLA survey and the American Community Survey (ACS) for local labor force estimates. The larger sample size in the ACS provides greater geographic detail than what is available in the CPS for studying family and medical leave proposals in states, counties, or cities. Furthermore, the additional data available in the ACS on place of work allows for greater focus on the analysis of costs and benefits to employers in local areas considering policy changes.

Moving forward, IWPR, under federal and state research contracts, will be using the updated Family and Medical Leave Cost Simulation Model to study leave policies in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Montgomery County, MD, and the expansion of Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver plan.

President’s Message: Fall 2015

By Heidi Hartmann

It has been a great year for IWPR. Among many report releases, strong press coverage, and great exposure in the popular media, I want to particularly share with you my excitement at the new era that has begun in the struggle to attain paid parental leave in the United States. From President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union speech to the 2016 presidential candidates from both parties, the call for paid parental leave has come to the fore. While one candidate attacked the need for any legislation guaranteeing such policies (claiming that employers that find it important to their business will do it on their own), many candidates have supported the call for paid parental leave policy at the federal level, although most have not yet issued detailed plans. Never before has paid family leave been addressed so prominently in these venues.

I am very proud to say that IWPR’s dogged work since the mid-1990s to present paid family leave as a realistic option for the United States is finally paying off. As noted in Jeff Hayes’ opening article in this newsletter, IWPR first highlighted the use of state Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) programs—which already covered a woman’s pregnancy, delivery, and recovery—as vehicles for paid family care leave in a paper presented in 1995 at the annual meetings of the American Economic Association. We followed that up with a fact sheet in 1996 describing the five existing state TDI programs. California was in fact the first of these states to adopt paid family care leave, built upon their TDI program, in 2002; IWPR staff members had traveled to Sacramento to present findings on more than one occasion. More recently, New Jersey in 2008 and Rhode Island in 2013 have joined California in expanding their TDI programs to provide paid benefits for family care leave, typically four to six weeks and all paid for by workers through payroll tax deduction.

Currently, the District of Columbia is one of several local and state jurisdictions that is actively exploring how to establish a new paid leave program without a TDI system to build upon. The District won one of four competitive grants offered by the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, to enable research on feasibility, and the District contracted with IWPR for assistance with its analysis. This year, the Women’s Bureau awarded eight grants and IWPR is expecting to work with four of the winning jurisdictions.

The Women’s Bureau grants seemed to have started an avalanche as several other states are spending their own funds on feasibility studies for paid family leave. For sure, an avalanche began in the tech industry as firms competed with one another to offer family leave. As reported by Elle, Netflix started it by offering up to one year paid leave; Microsoft then offered 12 paid weeks for family care, in addition to 8 for maternity disability. Adobe Systems then announced an expansion of maternity leave from 17 to 26 weeks and a doubling of fathers’ time off from 2 weeks to 4 weeks. Amazon responded to all this with 20 weeks off for pregnancy including 4 weeks prepartum and up to 6 weeks off for fathers. Finally, Spotify now gives up to 6 month off with pay anytime from 2 months before birth to a child’s third birthday. Of course, firms with highly skilled talent are more likely to make such an investment, but Facebook also requires its contracting firms (providing services such as food and cleaning among other services) to provide parental leave or a lump sum of $4,000 in lieu of paid leave. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, is currently taking a two month leave after the birth of his family’s first child. Policies and practices such as these dramatically change the climate in favor of change at a national level. It is an international embarrassment that 183 countries have paid parental leave and only the US—along with Papua New Guinea—does not (according to the International Labour Organization).

Should the current discussion on national security leave any room and the issue of family leave reverberate in the presidential election in 2016, change could happen much more quickly than is commonly expected. IWPR’s work will be central to the action! Stay tuned.

IWPR Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women Report

by Jessica Milli, Ph.D.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of 1963’s American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored a series of Scholars’ Papers. As part of this effort, IWPR prepared papers on parental leave and on occupational segregation and the wage gap.

Paid Parental Leave in the United States reviews research and data sources on paid leave for family related purposes. Despite the recommendation in the 1963 report that paid maternity leave be pro­vided for female workers, it took another thirty years’ for the passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to provide at least unpaid job protected maternity and paternity leave. Due to the structure of the FMLA, as of 2012, only 59 percent of workers were eli­gible for FMLA leave. With the exception of a few states with more generous family leave policies, FMLA leave is unpaid, and many families cannot afford to use it as much as they would like.

The IWPR paper also details previous research on the economic and health benefits of paid family leave. Paid family leave can improve the labor force at­tachment of workers, improve employee morale and productivity, reduce worker turnover, and positively impact economic growth. Such benefits to firms may help offset the costs of implementing paid leave policies. Research further suggests that expanding paid leave is likely to have economy-wide benefits such as reduced spending on public assistance programs and increased labor force participa­tion. Access to leave, whether it is paid or not, can increase breastfeeding rates and duration, reduce the risk of infant mortality, and increase the likelihood of infants receiving well-baby care and vaccinations.

The paper also reviews federal data sources on paid and unpaid leave and highlights gaps and inconsistencies in the information avail­able. The paper argues for a more sys­tematic federal effort to improve the data infrastructure on this important benefit for working families.

Occupational Segregation and the Gender Wage Gap documents changes since the 1960s in the types of jobs that men and women perform and links those trends with recent lack of change in the gender wage gap. Women have made large strides toward equality in the labor force, including increasing their representation in occupations that have traditionally been dominated by men— such as management, accounting, and law. However, not all occupations have seen increased integration over the years, and many remain heavily male- or female-dominated. The paper docu­ments that progress has stalled, point­ing out that both progress in improving occupational integration and progress in closing the gender wage gap stalled at the beginning of the last decade. This relationship suggests that occupa­tional segregation should be a priority of policy efforts to address the wage gap, either by focusing on encourag­ing women to enter more integrated or male-dominated occupations, or by im­proving earnings in female-dominated occupations, or both.

The papers are available on the Women’s Bureau website and on IWPR’s website.

Jessica Milli, Ph.D. is an IWPR Senior Research Associate.

Bridging the Gap: Bringing the Benefits of Paid Family Leave to American Workers #FAMILYAct

by Lindsey Reichlin and Stephanie Román

ImageImageThis blog post was crossposted at MomsRising.

In its founding year, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) analyzed the costs to workers of not having unpaid leave for childbirth, personal health needs, or family caregiving in its inaugural publication, Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave. IWPR’s research showed that, by not recognizing the  need for work-life balance, established policies not only failed to support workers and their families, but were costly to taxpayers.

Now 20 years old, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has become a cornerstone of U.S. employment law and human resource policy. But the law stopped short of ensuring true protection to workers: the FMLA only guarantees unpaid family and medical leave for employees, complicating the economic security puzzle for many workers in the United States.

Today, most U.S. employees still lack access to paid family leave. While the FMLA requires that employers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected care leave for eligible workers, the lack of a paid parental leave statute means the United States is one of only four countries in the world  without publically sponsored paid maternity leave. Paid family leave can bring important benefits to both families and businesses. Yet, many parents with unpaid leave are forced to choose between financial stability and caring for their newborns.

In 2012, only 35 percent of U.S. employees had access to paid family leave to care for newborns, adopted children, or sick family members.[1] The lack of access is even more pronounced for lower income earners: only five percent of the lowest paid workers had this option. Workers with the least financial security, and therefore the least flexibility to go without pay, often do not have access to income when taking time off for caregiving duties. As a result, the burden of unpaid leave can be too much for many women to bear: almost two-thirds of those who needed but did not take unpaid family leave in 2012 were women.

Expanded access to paid leave would mean substantially increasing the amount of time parents take for caregiving. The impact of the Paid Family Leave program in California, available equally to women and men, gives insight into the difference a paid leave statute could make on a larger scale: the program has doubled the length of leave parents–especially low-income parents–take to stay home with their newborns. It has also significantly increased the number of fathers who take advantage of parental leave, even increasing the length of leave they choose to take.

The time parents spend with young children is crucial for their health and development. When that time is paid, the benefits are even greater. Studies show that paid family leave can dramatically decrease mortality rates for infants and children under age 5, a reduction that does not hold for leave that is unpaid or not job-protected. Paid family leave also increases the initiation and duration of breastfeeding, which can reduce children’s risk for serious illnesses, and improve their cognitive development.

Working women, in particular, stand to benefit from paid family leave. Paid leave could help narrow the persistent wage gap that continues to plague working women. Women who take paid maternity leave have seen an increase in wages and depend less on public assistance in the year after giving birth. Paid maternity leave also keeps women in the workforce, which increases the productivity of the labor force overall, and could potentially improve gender equality both in the home and at work.

Paid family leave has the potential to bring important economic benefits to the country as a whole, as well as to individual businesses. Providing paid leave to federal employees, for example, would save the government and taxpayers $50 million dollars per year in turnover costs by improving recruitment and retention of younger employees. Private industry also benefits from the reduction in costs related to recruiting, hiring, and training. Women in California, particularly those in low-wage jobs, were shown to be more likely to return to the same employer following paid maternity leave than those who did not have access to paid leave.

The myriad benefits of paid family leave are clear. And while a handful of states have passed policies that go beyond the federal requirements, there is much to be done to fill the gap left by FMLA and ensure all workers reap the many benefits of paid family leave. The FAMILY Act represents an important opportunity to do just that by instituting family leave insurance for workers. By allowing parents to care for their loved ones without fear of losing their jobs or incomes, the United States would better support the well-being of its workforce, while simultaneously realigning its priorities with the global norm: providing vital paid family leave to its workers.

[1] A variety of data sources measure paid leave coverage rates and some debate exists over which source provides the most accurate picture. This post uses the Department of Labor’s 2012 Family Medical Leave Act survey, which surveys workers and worksites on provision and access to paid leave for parental purposes.


Lindsey Reichlin is the Research & Program Coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Stephanie Román is the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

New BLS Data Confirm Unequal Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

By Kevin Miller and Caroline Dobuzinskis

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on access to and use of paid leave by American workers. This is the first time the ATUS has included questions on leave-taking among American workers, with a module paid for by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The findings from the 2011 Leave Module of the ATUS reveal that many American workers lack access to paid leave from their jobs, though access varies by worker and occupational characteristics. Overall, 59 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid leave; 4 in 10 American workers lack access to paid leave. This reflects IWPR research analysis that found that 44 million workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave and that only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010.

Overall, the newly released BLS data on leave access and use by American workers confirm large disparities in access to and use of leave, especially paid leave. Workers with lower wages, Hispanic workers, workers in poorer health, and workers in jobs that put them in direct contact with the public (e.g., sales or hospitality workers) are less likely to have access to leave from their jobs and are more likely to lose pay when they do take leave.

Findings Show Large Gaps in Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

Men and women have similar rates of access to paid leave, with 60 and 58 percent of male and female workers with access to paid leave, respectively. The reasons for taking leave tend to differ between gender, with more women tending to take leave for illness or medical treatment for themselves or a family member.

Based on educational levels, there are large disparities in access to paid leave. Workers with college degrees are far more likely (72 percent) to have access to paid leave than workers without a high school diploma (35 percent). The BLS data also show large gaps in access between Hispanic and other workers. Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent). White, black, and Asian workers have similar rates of access to paid leave (59, 61, and 62 percent respectively).

Among full-time workers, those in the top quartile of earnings are the most likely to have access to paid leave (83 percent have access), while those in the lowest quartile are less likely (50 percent have access). Seventy-nine percent of workers in the financial industry have access to paid leave, while only 25 percent of those in the leisure and hospitality industries—which include food service—have access to paid leave. Workers in the private sector are less likely to have access to paid leave (57 percent) than are workers in the public sector (76 percent).

Taking Time Off Can Mean Lost Wages for Many Workers

Though over half of workers have access to some kind of paid leave, and 90 percent have access to either paid or unpaid leave, in an average week only 21 percent of workers took leave (including either vacation or sick time) according to the BLS.

Women, who tend to have more caregiving duties for children and older relatives, were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs during an average week (23 percent compared with 20 percent). Of women workers who took leave in an average week, 35 percent did so either to care for their own medical needs, for those of a family member or relative, or to provide elderly care or child care, compared with 25 percent of men who took leave for the same reasons.

Workers who characterized their health as fair or poor were somewhat less likely to take leave in an average week. But those who did were more likely to take unpaid leave compared with those who characterized their health as good. Sixty percent of workers in fair or poor health took unpaid leave, compared with 38 to 39 percent who characterized their health as good, very good, or excellent (most of whom took paid leave). IWPR’s analyses of the costs and benefits of paid sick days in several states and cities nationwide have found that access to paid sick days improves workers’ self-assessed health, reduces costly emergency department visits, and reduces health care costs to private and public insurers.

Reflecting the lack of access to paid leave in many service-oriented jobs, workers in management, business, and financial operations were much less likely to take unpaid leave compared with workers in service occupations (20 percent took unpaid leave compared with 66 percent). Of those workers in the leisure and hospitality industry who took leave in an average week, 86 percent took unpaid leave. Only 13 percent of workers in this industry took paid leave.

Mirroring the inequality in access to paid leave that exists across income levels, workers in the top quartile of earnings are twice as likely to have taken paid leave in an average week (82 percent) compared with workers in the lowest quartile of earnings (40 percent).

These new findings reaffirm the lack of equal access to paid leave that can leave many workers without economic or job security if an illness should arise for themselves or for a family member. Without access to paid leave, many workers simply cannot afford to take time off. Workers who are sometimes forced to work while ill tend to be those who are most likely to come into contact with the public and spread contagious illness. Women, often those caring for family members, tend to be disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and tend to have lower earnings than men.

Visit IWPR’s website for more information on IWPR’s research on paid sick days and the impact on paid sick days legislation on workers and businesses.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate and Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.