Paid Time Off Could Boost Slowing Vaccination Rates

A new survey shows Black and Latino workers in particular are concerned about missing work -- and pay -- because of the vaccine's side effects.

There are a lot of reasons Americans are reluctant to get vaccinated, and one of them has nothing to do with religion or politics: It’s the fear of lost income.

For many people, getting the shot requires taking time off work ― not just once but twice, if the vaccine is a two-dose regimen. A bout of side effects may well keep someone off the job for another day or two after getting jabbed. But the U.S. has no universal guarantee of paid time off, and low-wage workers are much less likely to enjoy the benefit than high-income workers.

New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggest a lack of paid leave may be holding some of those people back from getting vaccinated.

In surveys conducted in April, 64% of Latino adults who had not been vaccinated said they were worried the side effects would keep them from work. Fifty-five percent of Black adults said the same, while the share among white adults was 41%.

Not surprisingly, the concern is particularly acute among Latinos who may be undocumented. Nearly three-quarters of those adults said they were concerned about potential side effects keeping them from their jobs. Undocumented workers tend to have less bargaining power at work due to their immigration status, and they often fear upsetting their employers.

Chart courtesy KFF

Kaiser noted that these racial discrepancies track with clear inequities in paid leave, since Latino and Black workers are more likely to be in low-wage jobs with skimpy benefits: “They have less flexibility to take time off work and, if they do miss work, they often face lost wages that may leave them in a difficult financial situation.”

Some employers have given workers half or full paid days off to get vaccinated, or offered a one-time bonus for those who show proof of vaccination, including in low-wage fields like retail and the grocery industry. The American Rescue Plan recently passed by Congress offers tax credits to companies with fewer than 500 employees who provide paid leave for vaccinations.

However, the actual policies vary from one company to the next, and some employers have offered no carrot at all.

Three-quarters of private-sector U.S. workers get paid sick days, but paid time off is far more widespread in higher-paying, white-collar industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For jobs in the bottom 25% of average wages, less than half of workers get paid sick days. For jobs in the bottom 10%, less than one-third of workers get them.

“The concern is particularly acute among Latinos who may be undocumented.”

Some of the least generous paid leave policies are found in fields that disproportionately employ Latinos, like construction, food service and agriculture.

In the Kaiser surveys, 54% of unvaccinated Latinos said they would be more likely to get the shot if they had paid time off to cover the appointment and any side effects. Being given a flat $200 stipend also made vaccination more attractive, though for only 38%, suggesting paid time off work would be more effective.

The findings come at a time when the pace of vaccinations around the U.S. has been slowing after an encouraging rollout.

Nearly half of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but many of those who are most eager and able to get vaccinated have already done so. In general, the most socially vulnerable counties in the U.S. tend to have lower vaccination rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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