Jun 10, 2021 - Economy & Business

Study reveals inaccessibility of paid leave for low-income workers

An apron becoming dust.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

About two-thirds of service-sector workers said they could not take leave, or took less leave than they wanted, when they experienced a major life event, according to a Harvard and UC San Francisco study released today. Within this group, 71% said the reason was they couldn’t afford to.

Why it matters: Part of President Biden’s American Families Plan provides 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family and sick leave to workers, marking the first time that a U.S. president has introduced a national-level paid leave program.

By the numbers: The study, which Axios is first to report, shows exactly how difficult it was for low-income workers to think about taking time off in the fall of 2020 — whether for a personal medical need, caregiving, new child or a combination of qualifying events.

  • Men (38%) were more likely than women (28%) to say they didn't take leave or as much as they would have liked to out of fear that they would lose their jobs.
  • Hispanic workers (53%) and Black workers (49%) were the most likely to say they felt pressure to avoid taking time off or fear job loss compared with white workers (39%).
  • The survey covered 8,500 of those who worked for 85 of the largest companies across retail, grocery, delivery and fulfillment and food service, including Walmart, Target and Starbucks.
  • The median wage of workers surveyed was $12.75 per hour.

What they're saying: The study is among the first to document the extent to which paid leave is inaccessible among front-line low-wage workers, researchers Elaine Zundl, Julia Goodman and Daniel Schneider tell Axios.

The bottom line: Making the case for paid leave, financially fragile workers "are serving food and going hungry," Schneider says.

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