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Survey finds continuing disparities in who gets paid sick or family leave

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Only a third of workers at the poverty line get any kind of paid sick or family leave, according to a survey from the Urban Institute.

Only a third of workers at the poverty line get any kind of paid sick or family leave, according to a survey from the Urban Institute. Getty Images

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At the height of the COVID pandemic, there was a lot of talk about workers’ access to paid time-off—whether for one’s own illness, or that of a family member. A lot of essential workers weren’t entitled to it, and had to keep working when sick, or risk financial crisis if they didn’t.

The Urban Institute has a new report looking at which workers can now take paid time-off with some sobering results. 

The Urban Institute survey asked respondents whether they’re allowed to take paid time-off from work — either sick-days for their own illness, or longer-term leave to care for a family member or new child. 

Researcher Jack Smalligan said the survey found “gaps in access persist and are quite pronounced —skewed by income, race and education.”

Only a third of workers at the poverty line get any kind of paid sick or family leave, compared with 80% of higher-income workers. Latino and Black workers are less likely have the benefit than white workers. And fewer than half of women 18-34 get paid parental leave. 

“The United States is really an outlier. We have no national paid family and medical leave program, no paid sick time program,” said Laura Narefsky at the National Women’s Law Center, adding that in the absence of federal legislation, state and local governments are passing paid-leave laws. Benefits vary in length, how much of a worker’s pay they replace, and who qualifies.  

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