This time of year it is no surprise when we wake up with the sniffles or our child comes home with a cold. The problem is that the lack of access to affordable health care or the denial of fair workplace benefits and a living wage mean that some people have a tough time caring for themselves and their families.
Without paid leave, it can be difficult for people to care for their children and be successful at work. This not only hurts individuals and families, but when it comes to workplace productivity and retention it also hurts the economy.
The FAMILY Act would create a national paid family leave insurance program. The fact is that less than 15% of people working in the private sector have access to paid family leave through their workplace. It is even worse for Latino families given that more than half of Latinos lack access to paid time off from work when they are ill or need to care for a loved one. With many families already struggling to get by, they simply cannot afford to take time off without pay.
Our workplace policies are failing to provide the support that people need to manage the demands of job and family, and what our businesses and economy need to thrive. No one should face the awful choice between the health of a loved one and their paycheck ― or even their job.
Being denied paid time off means that parents are sometimes forced to choose between a paycheck and taking care of themselves and their children. Paid leave contributes to improved newborn and maternal health. New mothers are better able to initiate and continue breastfeeding, and new parents can more easily get babies to the doctor for check-ups and immunizations.
Mothers are often given primary responsibility to take care of their children in times of illness. With so many Latinas acting as the primary wage earners in their family, unpaid time off hits families in our community even harder. We know that just 3 ½ unpaid days off can cost a family an entire month of groceries. Are these the kinds of choices we want families to make – caring for each other or feeding their families? That is not the kind of community I want to live in. Simply put, we can do more to support families. The FAMILY Act is an important step forward.
Paid leave also allows ill or injured adults to get critical care and take needed recovery time, and it enables caregivers to help ill parents, spouses and children fulfill treatment plans and avoid complications and hospital readmissions. There is a clear public health benefit to providing fair and appropriate support for people to take the time they need to manage health concerns. Study after study show that paid leave benefits workers, their families, businesses and the economy.
Paid leave is associated with a number of health and economic benefits. Unfortunately, people of color—especially Latinos—are less likely to have access to jobs that offer this important benefit. Parents have to make sure their children are cared for and we all get sick at some time. The challenge is that not everyone is able to take the necessary time off from work to get better and to meet the needs of their families. Income should not determine whether you can be there for your child or your parent when they need you.
We all deserve to have the ability to care for our families and be healthy without the fear of putting our families in debt or not being able to make ends because we were forced to take unpaid leave. We must not only move strong workplace policies, but also build on the recent progress to ensure that people are paid a living wage and that they can afford to access medical care when they need it. That is what it will take to build truly healthy communities.