Workers Without Paid Sick Leave Endure Financial Worries


Many Americans, even middle-class earners, are living paycheck-to-paycheck. While worrying about making ends meet is a common concern for many Americans, new research shows that it is even more troublesome for working adults without paid sick leave.

A study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University, published in the Journal of Social Service Research is the first to investigate the relationship between paid sick leave and financial worry. Even when controlling for education, race, sex, marital status, employment and insurance, the researchers have shown a positive association between not having paid sick leave and reporting financial worry.

Results show that Americans without paid sick leave were more likely to worry about both short-term financial issues like housing expenses, as well as long-term financial issues such as retirement or future bills for an illness or accident. The highest odds of reporting worry were associated with normal monthly bills. Indeed, respondents were 1.59 times more likely to report being “very worried” about these bills. Similarly, respondents who lack paid sick leave were 1.55 times more likely to report being “very worried” about paying rent, mortgage or other housing costs compared to workers with paid sick leave.

Concern about making the minimum payment on credit cards was statistically significant, too. The average U.S. household credit card debt topped $16,000 in 2017. Conversely, workers with paid sick leave were less likely to report worrying about common financial obligations.

“For Americans who are working without paid sick leave, a day lost can translate into lost wages or even place their employment in jeopardy. This contributes to the shaky financial situation in which many families already find themselves,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., senior author and an associate professor of FAU’s Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work within the College for Design and Social Inquiry. “Given worry’s known relationship to health, mental health, and employment productivity, findings from our latest study are really disconcerting.”

For the study, the researchers used the National Health Interview Survey 2015 data release and sampled 17,897 working adults between the ages of 18 and 64 in the U.S. in current paid employment. More than 40 percent of the sample size did not have paid sick leave, more than half were female, more than half were married, nearly three-quarters had some college education; and the majority (62 percent) were non-Hispanic white. The average age was 41.2 years, the mean family size was 2.6 persons; and more than 79 percent worked full-time.

Paid sick leave allows employees to balance work and family responsibilities while also managing their own health and that of their family members. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68 percent of Americans and only 31 percent of part-time workers have access to paid sick days. Hispanic workers have the lowest access rates at only 45 percent. Only the U.S. and Japan do not mandate a national sick leave benefit.

“The costs of providing sick leave benefits may be lower than employers think when taking into account the costs of workers coming to work when they are sick or performing sub-optimally,” said Patricia Stoddard Dare, Ph.D., co-author and a professor in the School of Social Work at Cleveland State University. “Both employers and policy makers should consider the potential cost savings associated with offering a few guaranteed paid sick days.”

In their prior research, DeRigne and Stoddard-Dare showed that workers without paid sick leave benefits also reported a statistically significant higher level of psychological distress. They were 1.45 times more likely to report that their distress symptoms interfered “a lot” with their daily life and activities compared to workers with paid sick leave. Those most vulnerable: young, Hispanic, low-income and poorly educated populations. Their other research findings also showed that working adults without paid sick leave were three times more likely to have incomes below the poverty line and were more likely to experience food insecurity and require welfare services.

With this latest study, DeRigne and Stoddard-Dare have identified another vulnerability among these workers – an increased risk of financial worry. The researchers stress that mandating paid sick leave benefits may provide an additional safety net to support working families, especially low-income households for which a day of lost wages can be very difficult to absorb.

“The risk and fear of losing one’s job due to illness related absences can lead to people working while sick, which has serious public health implications especially as we are entering peak flu season,” said DeRigne. “Our research is providing further evidence of the importance of paid sick leave benefits to the economic health of families and in general to society.”

Co-authors of the study are Cyleste Collins, Ph.D., Linda M. Quinn, Ph.D., and Kimberly Fuller, Ph.D. from Cleveland State University.

Our Reflections on the Shooting Tragedy in Pittsburgh, PA

On behalf of the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, we express our heartfelt sorrow and condolences to the family and friends of the 11 members of Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) Synagogue who were tragically killed while praying and studying Torah on the Sabbath. We know the impact of this anti-Semitic attack goes well beyond Tree of Life, affecting individuals across the country, abroad and Jewish communities.

As we reflect on this act of violence—as well as recent bomb threats, murders motivated by racism and homophobia, and other acts of hate—we may feel sad and disillusioned. In these challenging times, it is and more important than ever to maintain our resolve to make things better, to help heal the world. Despite increased incidents of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry, we also see acts of bravery, compassion, altruism and hope. The responses of law enforcement personnel and medical professionals in Pittsburgh were truly heroic. The outpouring of love and support from people of many different faiths, beliefs, and cultures has shown that we can come together and begin to heal.

As we move forward, each of us can make a difference. We can reach out to those of different backgrounds and beliefs, building bridges, opening communication, and learning about each other. We can challenge bigotry by promoting greater understanding, respect and acceptance. We can advocate for legal and social policy reforms to foster safety and security for all. We can enhance social work and mental health services to help identify people at risk and offer early intervention and support. We can also become more involved politically to ensure that our leaders focus on issues of safety, security, equality, and acceptance. Even small acts of social action, advocacy, kindness, and compassion may have significant effects.

“Shalom” (peace) is not just a greeting or a prayer; it is an action that we must take.

Arthritis Study Wins “Best Paper” from American Journal of Public Health

JuYoung Park, Associate Professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, has won a highly-coveted “Best Paper of the Year” Editor’s Choice Award from the American Journal of Public Health for her co-authored study “Various Types of Arthritis in the United States: Prevalence and Age-Related Trends from 1999 to 2014”.

“Given the health and economic burden of arthritis, understanding prevalence trends is of significant public health interest,” Park said. “Because of these burdens, developing cost-saving and effective treatments are necessary to minimize arthritis symptoms, maximize functional capacity, reduce disability and, moreover, improve the quality of life for the more than 350 million people worldwide who are affected by arthritis.”

Dr. Park has been invited to attend the 2018 APHA Annual Meeting in San Diego to accept her award at the Public Health Awards Reception and Ceremony. The AJPH will also run a feature column on the winning publications in their December 2018 issue.

VIDEO: About the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work

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