A little more than a decade ago, there wasn’t a single law in the United States that guaranteed a worker could get a paid day off if she or her family members got sick. But over the last 10 years, a movement has grown at the state and local level to pass paid sick leave laws, notching 33 victories so far — 28 cities and five states.
Now there’s proof the effort has paid off.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released data showing that the share of Americans who get paid sick leave at work has reached an all-time high. Sixty-four percent of those who work in the private sector have access to a paid day off for illness, an increase of 7 percentage points over the last decade and up from 61 percent a year before.
The BLS data also shows that access is becoming fairer. The statistics have always proven that the more a worker makes, the more likely he is to get paid sick leave as a benefit at his job. While that’s still true — the highest-paid Americans are 2.2 times more likely to get paid sick leave than the lowest-paid — that inequality has decreased. The uptick in the share of workers with paid sick leave between 2015 and 2016 was almost entirely thanks to low-wage workers getting the new benefit. Nearly 40 percent of low-wage workers have paid sick leave now, compared to 31 percent last year. Still, 87 percent of the best paid private sector workers get the benefit.
The effort to guarantee paid sick leave — something every other developed nation already does — began a decade ago with groups that organized and began spreading a message that it’s a universally necessary benefit. The movement won in San Francisco in 2006 and Washington, D.C. in 2008. Then the issue became political, upending a gubernatorial race in Connecticut in 2010 and a mayoral race in New York City in 2013, and that’s when the victories began to really take off.
The issue has also made its way to the nation’s capital. Democratic members of Congress have introduced a bill that would guarantee all workers at least seven paid sick days, and President Obama has taken action. He issued an executive order last year that requires all federal contractors to give their employees at least seven paid sick days a year, covering 300,000 people, while urging Congress to pass the Democrats’ bill and cities and states to keep passing their own.
Still, the movement faces significant headwinds. Democrats have introduced their bill multiple times but it has yet to move forward. Meanwhile, 15 states have instituted laws that ban cities and other localities from passing their own paid sick leave requirements.