Monthly Archive for November, 2011

Honoring the Nation’s Family Caregivers with the Policies They Need

When President Obama proclaimed November National Family Caregivers Month this year, he described family caregiving as “heroic work… often done while caregivers balance other commitments to their families, jobs, and communities.” He couldn’t be more right, especially in this economy and as an increasing number of older Americans need care. That’s why policies like paid sick days and paid family leave, that help family caregivers manage their responsibilities while they provide essential care to their loved ones, are critical.

Nearly 30 percent of the adult population – 66 million Americans – served as unpaid family caregivers in the past year, and most of them held jobs in addition to caring for a loved one. Working family caregivers inevitably need short periods of time off of work to administer medication, attend doctors’ appointments or deal with medical emergencies. Yet more than 44 million workers, including many family caregivers, don’t have basic paid sick days they can use to meet family caregiving needs or recover from their own illnesses. And millions don’t have access to longer periods of leave they can use when loved ones face serious illnesses.

Challenges for family caregivers and our nation are growing steadily. As the population ages and people live longer, the need for family caregivers is increasing. It’s estimated that, by 2050, there will be 88.5 million older adults. And we all know that people are in greater need of routine medical care and treatment as they age. Right now, 91 percent of adults over age 65 are living with at least one chronic condition that requires routine care. Seventy-three percent have at least two. At this rate, without policies that support family caregivers, the country won’t be able to keep up with the amount of care the population needs.

Paid sick days allow family caregivers to earn paid time away from work to help their elderly loved ones get the care they need. Paid family leave insurance provides longer periods of time off when loved ones have serious health conditions and need care. These policies also play a critical role in protecting the health of family caregivers themselves. Family caregiving is both physically and emotionally demanding, and employed family caregivers often find it difficult to deal with their own ailments and get routine care because their time and finances are stretched thin. For those without paid sick days, getting care for themselves can be nearly impossible.

There is a clear imperative to make sure caregivers can meet their responsibilities at work and at home in order to keep older adults and their families safe, healthy and happy. No one who takes on the selfless task of caring for a loved one should be forced to choose between that loved one and the economic security of their family. So as we approach the end of National Family Caregivers Month and the start of the holiday season, let’s all remind legislators at all levels and all across the country that working families and caregivers truly need: modest, supportive policies that help caregivers manage their work obligations while caring for their loved ones.

Vicki Shabo is the director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

New Study: Lack of Paid Sick Days Contributed to Millions of H1N1 Cases

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that various racial and ethnic groups were at greater risk of exposure to H1N1 during the pandemic because they didn’t have access to paid sick days. In particular, the Latino population was at greater risk of illness because many lacked this basic right.

As the Center for American Progress’s Sarah Jane Glynn explains on Think Progress:

Potential exposure to H1N1 during the 2009 pandemic was significantly related to race and ethnicity, with Hispanics having the greatest risk of infection. Even after controlling for income and education, Hispanics had the highest probability of contracting an influenza-like illness, due to the absence of paid sick leave and structural factors such as the number of children living in the household.

The lack of paid sick leave among Hispanic workers contributed to an estimated 1.2 million cases of influenza-like illness among Hispanics, and 5 million additional cases in the general population.

Nearly 60 percent of Latino workers — about 12 million people — do not have access to paid sick days through their employers. Latino adults are more likely to be in the workforce than any other racial or ethnic group, and they are also more likely to work in service industry jobs such as personal care or food service — jobs where they are in direct contact with the public and where paid sick leave is less commonly offered.

Thus, the person preparing your food at a restaurant is disproportionately likely to be Latino, and is also disproportionately unlikely to have paid leave that would allow him to stay home if he caught the flu. Other research has shown that a lack of paid sick days resulted in employees of all races and ethnicities who were infected with H1N1 going to work while sick, thus infecting an estimated additional 7 million individuals — as many as 1,500 of whom died as a result.”

For more on the study, visit the American Journal of Public Health

For more on the impact a lack of paid sick days has on Latino families, check out this fact sheet.

Paid Sick Days: Healthier Families, More Than $1 Billion in Savings

Health reform has underscored the imperative to increase access to health care, improve quality and reduce costs. According to a thought-provoking new report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) this week, paid sick days can – and should – play a significant role in reaching these goals.

Paid Sick Days and Health: Cost Savings from Reduced Emergency Room Visits finds that, regardless of workers’ access to health insurance, there are undeniable connections between the ways in which private sector workers use the health care system and whether they have access to paid sick days. And these connections can result in significant costs for working families’ health, their financial security and the effectiveness of the system overall.

Currently, more than 40 percent of the private sector workforce – and more than 80 percent of the lowest-wage workers – don’t have paid sick days. These workers often can’t afford to lose income or risk their jobs by taking unpaid time off to get the medical care they need. They are left with no choice but to use expensive emergency rooms to get primary care for themselves or their families during non-work hours, or to delay getting care until their health problems worsen and they need care for more severe conditions – at even greater costs.

IWPR’s findings demonstrate that the barrier that prevents workers without paid sick days from getting timely, affordable care is a huge and costly problem for workers, their families and our nation. According to the report, workers with paid sick days are less likely than those without to use hospital emergency rooms or to delay care for themselves or family members. They also report better health. The analysis reveals that if all workers had paid sick days, 1.3 million emergency room visits could be prevented each year. The country would save an astounding $1.1 billion in health care costs annually. And more than $500 million of these savings would be to public programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare and Medicaid.

Emergency room use is a significant source of rising health care costs, according to the report. In fact, emergency room use has risen 30 percent in the last decade. Controlling these costs could benefit our health care system in important ways. And, as IWPR concludes, increasing workers’ access to paid sick days is a “low-cost route to reining in emergency department costs – while simultaneously improving health.” In other words, paid sick days are a win-win.

With this new report, IWPR has pinpointed a modest, common sense way to increase access to health care and reduce costs. Congress should take note of the new data and the growing support for paid sick days in states and cities across the country and move quickly to pass the Healthy Families Act. By doing so, it will increase access to paid sick days, promote the health of working families and save money for taxpayers and the government. There couldn’t be a better time to take this essential step.

Read the full Institute for Women’s Policy Research report here.

Vicki Shabo is the director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Cross-posted from National Partnership for Women & Families and MomsRising.

New Poll: Young People Need Paid Sick Days Too

Demos and Young Invincibles released a timely new report today on the barriers to economic success facing young adults in the United States. According to the report, one challenge is little access to job-protected, paid time away from work to use to recover from illness and care for a sick family member.

The report, The State of Young America, includes results from a survey of young adults, ages 18 to 34, that show that fewer than three in 10 of those polled reported having paid sick days they can use for themselves, a child and an immediate family member. Fewer than one in four women, and fewer than one in six Latinos said they have this basic right.

Like the 44 million workers across the country who don’t have paid sick days, young adults without paid sick days were more likely to report having gone to work when sick. According to the survey, for more than half, not being able to afford to lose pay was the top reason for doing so; fear of losing their jobs was also a factor for a significant share.

Overall, the report paints a stark picture of young America. Unemployment and underemployment are rising, the cost of living and student debt are increasing, and wages are declining. In an environment like this, not having basic workplace supports like paid sick days can easily push young adults and their families into financial crisis.

It’s no surprise then that only 22 percent of those young adults polled said they think their generation will be better off than their parents, and 30 percent said they are delaying starting families because of the economy. To begin to change direction, the report recommends a good jobs agenda that recognizes work and family obligations. One of its recommendations is to implement family friendly policies like paid family leave to help the young adult generation care for its children and elders.

It’s time for national policies, like a paid sick days standard and paid family and medical leave, that will enable young adults – and all workers – to provide for themselves and their families, and help build a stronger future for the country as a whole.

Read the full report here:


Despite Hard-Fought Campaign, Disappointing News from Denver

Despite months of passionate and dedicated work by the Campaign for Healthy Denver and its allies in support of a citywide paid sick days standard, Initiative 300 did not pass.

The disappointing election result means that more than 107,000 Denver workers and their families will continue to struggle – like the nursing worker who got fired after calling in sick, and the mother who lost a week’s worth of wages because she stayed home with her ill children, and the restaurant server who worked sick because he couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay. Thanks to corporate interests that dumped more than $837,000 into a campaign designed to spread misinformation and scare voters, stories like these will continue. And the public will suffer the consequences.

Big business money won in Denver – as part of a nationwide fight against common sense workplace and consumer protections – but momentum in the nationwide fight for paid sick days remains strong. This year alone, elected officials in Connecticut and Seattle granted workers the right to earn paid sick time. And Philadelphia took a step toward a citywide paid sick days standard. Coalitions and legislators in more than a dozen cities and states are mobilizing in support of paid sick days laws, providing momentum for federal action.

A broad coalition of workers, advocates and businesses came together to support the paid sick days initiative in Denver. We know how important a basic workplace standard like paid sick days is to the health and well-being of the city. We have learned a lot, and we will be back. Workers will prevail in Denver and in cities and states across the country.

Getting Back on Track with Family Friendly Policies

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

As National Work and Family Month drew to a close this time last year, working families were hopeful that the upcoming election would mean that the economy would turn around, families would regain control of their finances and economic security, and the country would finally get back on track after a crippling recession.

Sadly, we ended up with a deadlocked Congress, and legislators at every level who are determined to undermine the social safety net and basic workplace rights that are the fabric of our nation — and central to the economic security of families. The result has been workers continuing to struggle to hold onto their jobs, keep their homes, put food on the table and care for their families, including children and elderly relatives.

The past year has been hard for many working families, but it has also provided some promising and hopeful victories. Some family friendly policies, like paid sick days, have weathered the storm and will soon be available to hundreds of thousands more working people, helping them meet their families’ health needs while protecting their economic security.

Connecticut made history in June by becoming the first state to pass a paid sick days law that gives workers the right to earn job-protected paid sick days to use to recover from illness or to care for a sick child or family member. Soon after, the Seattle City Council followed suit by passing a similar law that resulted from an unprecedented collaboration between workers, forward-thinking businesses and advocates. And in Philadelphia, the City Council has taken a significant step toward ensuring workers in the city have the basic right to earn paid sick time.

So this year we have seen great momentum and support for at least one common sense, modest policy that can make a tremendous difference for working families. Other family friendly policies are already on the books in other states. Just in time for National Work and Family month, the National Partnership has launched a comprehensive database that makes it easier to identify all of these existing work and family policies. Check it out at

This new work and family database makes clear that lawmakers around the country recognize the need for and benefits of policies that ensure working people can be good workers and good family members. But if our country is ever going to demonstrate that it truly values families, and if we are serious about getting the country and economy back on track, then we need national work and family policy standards.

More than 40 percent of the private-sector workforce doesn’t have a single paid sick day. Only 11 percent have paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have paid medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance. The United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee workers paid leave.

It is time for the nation’s policies to catch up with the rest of the world, and with the needs of 21st century families. To start, we need a national paid sick days standard and national paid family and medical leave.

This year, we have seen that progress is possible, even in difficult economic and political times. The momentum must continue so that families and the country can get back on track.

Debra L. Ness is the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families