Pandemic response reveals potential for more equitable paid sick leave coverage in the Northeast Pandemic response reveals potential for more equitable paid sick leave coverage in the Northeast

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of paid sick leave for promoting public health and maintaining a healthy economy. This brief assesses the potential role of policy in increasing and equalizing access to paid sick leave. Before the pandemic, there was no federal paid sick leave policy in place for private sector workers. In response to the pandemic, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) required private sector firms with 500 or fewer employees to provide paid sick leave to all employees for coronavirus-related reasons through the end of 2020. This leave was funded through a refundable employer tax credit. To illustrate the potential for policy to mitigate disparities, I analyzed data from the National Health Interview Study to show the overall rate of paid sick leave access in the Northeast region, in the absence of state or federal paid sick leave legislation, and how FFCRA alone would have altered this picture.

In the absence of state or federal paid sick leave policy, 41.4 percent of Northeasterners with some work history had no paid sick leave. Certain groups had much lower rates of access to paid sick leave: Hispanics, those in low-income families, and self-employed and hourly workers. The FFCRA (along with state policies) made access to paid sick leave more equitable, when required for pandemic-related reasons. The FFCRA ended at the end of 2020. With virus cases still rising around the country, continued access to this benefit is vital. Furthermore, the increase in equity of access created by the FFCRA suggests that a permanent federal paid sick leave policy, applicable toward any healthcare need, has the potential to create a fairer labor market while also protecting public health.

For a brief video explaining the data presented in this paper, see the new Invested Policy Matters data short.

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