Economic Well-Being: When Women are Forced to Weigh Wages Against Health We All Lose
Hundreds of workers took to the streets of New York City last month to protest the lack of paid sick leave for over one million New Yorkers.
As a result of the rallies, two hundred people signed a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (Democrat--3rd District) encouraging her to bring the Paid Sick Days Act—a bill that was originally proposed to the City Council in 2009—up for a vote. The bill would require businesses to provide a certain number of paid sick days based on the amount of employees they have.
Quinn, who will run for mayor of New York City in 2013, rejected the proposal, suggesting that mandating employers to provide paid sick leave would cut into their profits.
Despite Quinn’s assessment of the bill, similar legislation has been enacted in nearby Connecticut, Seattle, and San Francisco with no malevolent economic impact—in fact, the San Francisco Bay Area is currently outpacing the rest of the country in terms of business and job growth.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that for the average private sector business, providing paid sick days for their workers would cost an additional 23 cents per hour per employee. For companies in the service industry, that cost drops to just eight cents.
According to the same report, access to paid leave can vary widely depending on the industry; approximately 84 percent of workers in professional occupations having access, while only 42 percent of service industry workers are provided paid sick days.
The chasm between the have's and have not's of paid sick days is gaping--disproportionately affecting not low-wage earners, but also for youth, women, and racial minorities.
Though the general assumption may be that with youth comes vitality (and therefore no need for sick days), 30 percent of private sector workers reporting fair or poor health in a National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) survey were under the age of 35.
18 percent of those reporting poor health in the survey were young women, compared to 12 percent of young men.
Young women aren’t the only ones affected by this inequality—so are working mothers.
Women, who are still the usual primary caretakers children in their families, are often the ones burdened to stay home from work to care for the kids when they fall ill. Despite this, approximately half of all working mothers do not receive pay when staying home to care for their children, according to the Joint Economic Committee.
Pour the dangerously low New York state minimum wage into the mix, and families headed by single mothers don't stand a chance and are more likely to live in poverty than those with two-income households.
Consideration of the bill should encompass more than the costs that would be incurred to the businesses in question, and perhaps instead highlight the threat to public health that this income inequality issue exacerbates and contributes to. More than these problems, this is a fundamental issue related to ensuring the equality of low-wage, youth, and minority workers, all of whom are disproportionately affected.
Provision of important benefits should not be considered a privilege subject to the decision of an employer, but a right that is guaranteed to all.
Amanda Fox-Rouch is a reporter for Campus Progress.
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