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Who Cares For – and About – Sick Kids?

June 12, 2012

by Ellen Bravo

Note to all legislators and other decision-makers:

If you care about children, you must pay attention to what is happening to their parents at work.

According to a study released today by Kristin Smith and Andrew Schaefer from the Carsey Institute, more than half of all employed parents (52 percent) have fewer than five paid days off they can use to care for a sick child. In fact, nearly half of the hard-working parents in our country don’t have any paid time off – no sick days for themselves and no paid vacation days.

Figure 1. Percent of employed parents lacking access to various forms of paid leave, 2008

Note: Includes all wage and salaried workers 18 years and older with children under 18.

Source: The 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) data.

Mothers are less likely than fathers to be able to take time for a sick child without losing a paycheck of a job. So are lower-wage workers and those who work part time.  Research by the Urban Institute showed that more than two in five working parents with household incomes below twice the poverty level have no form of paid time off.

In other words, the very people who are hardest hit by the loss of income or employment are the ones most in jeopardy by our outdated employment policies.

Over the years, I’ve talked to hundreds of parents across the country who work hard, but can’t afford to take time off when they’re sick.

Overwhelmingly, they say: “When I’m sick, I do everything I can to try to go in to work. But when my kids are sick, I stay home and try to figure out how we’re going to cover our bills.”

Children suffer when parents aren’t allowed to earn paid sick time.  They either have to stay at school sick because a parent can’t get off to pick them off, or their family feels the financial strain of putting food on the table or keeping the lights on.

Employers as well as public officials can learn a lot from Smith and Schaefer’s research. Not surprisingly, they found that regardless of worker and job characteristics, employed parents who have paid sick days specifically to care for sick children are twice as likely to be very satisfied with their job than those without. According to their report, “Given the link between content employees and work­place productivity and reduced turnover, it is in employers’ interest to promote policies that increase job satisfaction and reduce work-family conflict.”

In Georgia, legislators are considering a bill that would help let people use the paid sick days they have to take care of their sick children or ailing parents. The Family Care Act has bi-partisan support, as well as the backing of a broad coalition, including AARP, the League of Women Voters, 9to5 and many others.

It’s in all of our interest to promote public policies like earned sick days to increase the well-being of children and families.





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