The latest government report on job openings and labor turnover – the JOLTS report – makes an important point. Recent improvements in the labor market – employment gains and the falling unemployment rate – owe little to an increase in hiring by employers. Instead, they result mainly from a decline in involuntary separations – layoffs and firing – of workers. Making it possible for workers to keep their jobs is important to the economic recovery.
Routine illnesses can threaten workers’ employment. Too many workers still face an impossible choice: take off from work to care for themselves or their kids when illness strikes and risk losing their jobs or risk their health or that of their children and come into work. A surprisingly high two-fifths of all workers, and three-quarters of low-wage workers, have no paid sick days at all. And most workers who do have paid sick days can’t use them to care for a sick child. Routine illnesses create a crisis for these workers and their families.
Workers too sick to come into work or unable to leave a sick child unattended face the very real threat that they will be fired. And workers know very well what the loss of a job means for them and their families. New evidence confirms the high cost of starting over when you lose your job. Even if a worker who is let go because illness forces them to miss work manages to find another job – no easy task in an economy with nearly 14 million unemployed workers – job displacement results in years of lower pay. Indeed, time out of work to care for family members still falls mainly on women, and is one reason that they earn less, on average, than their male counterparts.
As the JOLTS report shows, the recovery is still too weak to support robust hiring by employers. Workers who are fired for not showing up on the job when they are too sick to get out of bed will not be readily replaced. The employer may choose to leave the position vacant until the recovery gathers strength. Advocates have long argued that access to paid sick days so a worker can stay home and recover from the flu or care for a child with a high fever is more important than ever when the job market is weak. Keeping workers in their jobs is an important factor in improving the labor market. A paid sick days standard that guarantees every worker access to time off when they or a family member come down with a serious cold or flu is good for workers, good for business, and good for an economy still struggling to put people to work.
About the Author: Eileen Appelbaum is a Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research with over 20 years of experience carrying out empirical research on workplace practices and labor-management cooperation. Full Bio.
This blog originally appeared in CEPR on March 15, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.