By Jason Coates, Public Policy Associate
In this year’s State of the Union Address, social media commentators were abuzz when President Obama said, “A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or a sick parent without running into hardship. And you know what, a father does too.” The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) agrees with the President because we believe all workers should have the ability to take paid time off to recover from an illness, care for a loved one or bond with a newborn baby.
The fact is people across the country need leaves that pay because everyone gets sick at some point. However, millions of workers (39% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) aren’t able to take a single paid day off to care for their health. For NHCOA, this is alarming because the number of working family caregivers (people who take care of an elderly family member) is increasing. Just like any worker, these caregivers would benefit from paid sick days and paid family leave insurance.
Leaves that pay also provide economic security. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 19% of retirees entered retirement earlier than planned to care for a family member or spouse. If he or she was Hispanic, early retirement represents less time to be able to save money as Latinos earn lower than average incomes and experience higher rates of poverty. For people with low incomes and without leaves that pay, illness forces them to choose between their family and their economic security.
Businesses also benefit from leaves that pay because they increase loyalty among workers and decrease turnover. Decreased turnover means that businesses face fewer of the costs associated with replacing experienced employees with new workers. The health benefits that workers receive from leaves that pay extend to employers as well; when people are able to take time off to care for their health, they are more likely to treat minor health issues before they become expensive conditions.
NHCOA is working to tell the stories of people that are in particular need of leaves that pay. One of the people that NHCOA serves, Carlos, lost his job after taking his wife to the emergency room during his scheduled work shift. When asked why he chose to care for his wife rather than go to work, he said he did it because he “wanted to be a good husband and father.” Should we have to sacrifice our ability to care for our own to make a paycheck? Should we have to choose between our families and our job?
Congress is currently considering bills on paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance. The bills, the Healthy Families Act (paid sick days) and the FAMILY Act (paid family and medical leave insurance), would help eliminate the choice people face between their health and family and their economic security. NHCOA fully supports these initiatives because being a good worker should not come at the expense of caring for one’s family and health.