Lack Of Paid Leave Disproportionately Affects Women And Minorities

By Violeta Rocha

When Lupita Castillo’s husband got injured at his workplace a few years ago, she had to work to take care of her family. She had to cut costs, losing hundreds of dollars in income needed to buy groceries and pay bills. This is all because her job didn’t offer paid leave for people with disabilities. 

When the pandemic hit, Castillo was the first in her family to contract COVID-19 and found herself in the same situation once again, without pay, as she recuperated at home. Despite the lingering effects and not having fully recovered, she still went to work.

“If I don’t go to work, my children and husband don’t eat,” she says. “This is how this works and it's clear that we need to be paid for taking time off.”

The United States is one of the only countries in the world without a national paid leave policy. Even as a first world country, many workers found themselves unprepared when the pandemic hit.

The most affected were Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous workers, who typically worked lower waged jobs. The hardship rates of unemployment and being out of work for more extended periods are associated with lower well-being instead of long-term employment.

Jessica Mason, senior policy analyst with the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF) says, “The workers who are paid the least and have the least savings and other assets to fall back on are often the same workers in these jobs where employers aren’t stepping up to provide basic benefits like paid leave.”

Among employees, 50 per cent of Latinos and 37 per cent of African Americans say their employers didn’t offer time off with pay, compared with 34 per cent of white employees, according to the report from the NPWF.

Women and people of colour are forced to make the impossible choice between caring for themselves or a loved one or a paycheck,” says Erika Moritsgug, Vice President of government relations and economic justice for the NPWF.

Working more than one job is a necessity for many just to make ends meet. 

Susana Rodriguez, 35, says she would be working her morning shift at the local supermarket, then work her second shift at a packaging company. She would work excessively and added more hours a month at a time to take care of her and her family’s needs.

She never took a day off and went to work sick if that was the case. But by the end of last year, she only had one week off to spend it with her 5-year-old son, whose classes moved remotely due to the pandemic.

“If I don’t go to work, I don’t pay my bills,” she says. 

According to a survey taken from September to October by the National Employment Law Project, 28 per cent of Latinas had taken days off without pay or quit to take care of their family members, compared with 27 per cent of Black women, 12 per cent of white women, and 12 per cent of men.

The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides job protection to employees who take unpaid leave. However, it applies to 50 per cent of workers, and its stringent requirements leave out employees of colour, according to NPWF.

On this occasion, the law only applies to workplaces with at least 50 employees, and workers would have been on the payroll for at least a year and would have worked a total of 1,250 hours to be eligible.

Women of colour, Black and Latino men are likely to be given more part-time shifts even if they ask to work full-time hours. This makes it challenging for Black and Latinos workers to have longevity during a temporary economic decline when they are most likely to be laid off and are struggling to find employment due to bias, according to NPWF.

In November last year, the U.S. House passed the Build Back Better Act, delivering a victory for working families. The 1.75 trillion social spending bill passed by the House includes four weeks of guaranteed paid family leave and improved access to affordable childcare.

The bill will go to the Senate, which will be revised before it becomes law. But many are concerned that paid leave will be stripped from the bill. 

“We are all just as important as essential workers and should be treated the same. It’s important that we have paid leave to be able to take time off and not worry about bills and choosing family over work,” said Rodriguez.

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