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Last Sunday, Mother's Day, kicked off National Women's Health Week, a time to raise awareness about the need to support women's health. According to the Office on Women's Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one of the key steps women can take to get and stay healthy is to have regular checkups like well-woman visits. But for many of the 37 million U.S. workers in private companies who cannot earn a single paid sick day, taking time away from work to seek preventive health care or address an illness is simply not possible. As we focus on women's health this week, let's remember that millions of women lack access to paid sick days that would help them care for themselves and their families without risking their economic security.
Nearly one in three private sector workers don't have access to paid sick days. This includes more than seven in 10 of the lowest-income workers, 81 percent of food service workers and 75 percent of people working at child care centers — all groups that are disproportionately female. Without paid sick days, workers are less likely to access cancer screenings, annual physicals and pap smears — and without that preventive care, illnesses advance and minor health problems become more serious and more costly to treat. The results can be devastating for a woman's health.
The inability to earn paid sick days is also problematic for women seeking abortion care, as restrictive laws increasingly make this care difficult to access, forcing women to expend more time and resources on abortion care than on other health care services. Restrictive abortion laws require women to travel long distances, take multiple days off work, make medically unnecessary visits to an abortion provider and spend money on travel. Women who are paid low wages, women of color and women living in medically underserved areas, such as rural communities, are especially affected by the combination of barriers to abortion care and lack of paid sick days.
The failure to allow workers to earn paid sick days is especially harmful to mothers, who often face an impossible choice between losing a paycheck or even a job and staying home to care for an ill child. The result is that working parents without paid sick days are nearly twice as likely as those with paid sick days to send a sick child to school or day care. Children whose mothers lack paid sick days are also less likely to receive routine well-child checkups, dental care and flu shots.
Without paid sick days, millions of women are forced to choose between their economic stability and their and their families' medical care. In fact, nearly one in four workers has reported either losing a job or being threatened with job loss for needing to take a sick day.
In response to these disturbing statistics, states and communities are taking action. Today, 43 jurisdictions, including 10 states, have paid sick days laws* and progress and momentum for this basic workplace protection is growing across the country. Access to paid sick days has increased dramatically over the past few years, which is due in large part to these state and local laws. Unfortunately, instead of following the lead of state and local leaders, opponents in Congress are siding with special interests and mounting a transparent and deceitful attack against paid sick time.
If Congress truly wants to help working people and their families and help women improve their health, members should pass the Healthy Families Act, which would establish a national paid sick days standard, giving more than 30 million additional workers — including six million food service workers and more than one million personal care workers — access to paid sick days.
Learn more about how you can help. If women are to be empowered to live healthy lives, we need paid sick days!
*Ten states, D.C. and 32 localities have or will soon have paid sick days laws in effect. When the New Jersey law takes effect in October, it will improve upon the 13 local laws in the state and those laws will no longer be in effect.
As we mark National Women’s Health Week, it’s important to remember that millions of women cannot earn paid sick days, which would help them care for themselves and their families.