Lack of Paid Sick Leave Puts Black and Latinx Americans at Higher Risk of Contracting COVID-19

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Black and Latinx Americans are over 2.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white, non-Hispanic persons. The lack of paid sick leave available to essential workers contributes to the disproportionate number Black and Latinx coronavirus cases.

In cities like Philadelphia, working in industries deemed essential, such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and public transportation increases the chances of being exposed to COVID-19. Many essential workers have close contact with the public and other workers, are unable to work from home, and don’t have paid sick days, per a CDC report. According to statistics published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented in these jobs, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 than other ethnic groups.

More than half of the 17,028 pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19 were Black or Latinx, while these groups only represent 21.9% of the total U.S. population. As per the CDC, discrimination, healthcare access and utilization, occupation, educational and wealth gaps, and housing are reasons this disparity exists. Researchers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality believe it’s due to occupation.

While the CDC has stressed the importance of staying home if one is sick, thousands of essential workers cannot follow their instructions. The Shift Project reports that out of the 30,000 hourly wage workers, only 45% have access to paid sick leave. A number of essential workers even reported being pressured to work while sick. Research also shows that Latinx people are the least likely to have paid sick leave, and Black workers are less likely to have paid sick days and are unable to work from home like their white counterparts.

Furthermore, a lack of paid sick leave discourages employees from staying home while sick. One in five food service workers has reported working while sick with possible COVID-19 symptoms, including vomiting or diarrhea. Coming in sick not only puts customers and employees at risk but also others who live with the exposed employees. For Latinx family members, this is an imminent risk since their households are, on average, 23% larger than those of white households. A larger number of people living together can rapidly spread the virus leading to more cases.

Some small businesses working with thin margins fear that mandatory paid sick hinder their ability to turn a profit. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers have eight days of paid sick leave available on average, and it costs employers 6% of the federal minimum wage ($7.25) per employee hour worked.

While cities like San Francisco that have mandated paid sick leave have lower infection rates, 23 states prohibit local municipalities from enacting laws to mandate paid sick days. Though the Families First Coronavirus Response Act granted sick leave to a number of individuals, it only applied to companies with 50 to 500 employees, effectively excluding companies that employ essential workers. Additionally, a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that out of the 22 countries with high living standards, Japan and the U.S. were the only two countries that lacked guaranteed sick leave for short-term illnesses.

The disparity in COVID-19 cases between racial and ethnic minorities and whites calls for federally mandated paid sick leave for all essential workers because the lack of it leaves essential workers and their families vulnerable to the pandemic.

Through Teen Lenses: Do you believe federally mandated paid sick leave would decrease the disparity of COVID-19 cases in racial and ethnic minority groups?

“Yes, I believe that federally mandated paid sick leave would decrease the disparity of COVID-19 cases in ethnic and minority groups. The data shows that these minority communities are getting hit the most from the coronavirus, and during these unprecedented times, they should not be pressured to go to work when they are sick. Not having federally mandated paid sick leave may just increase the number of COVID-19 cases, not decrease it.” Anonymous, 14, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Leesburg, Virginia
“Yes, ethnic minority groups have disproportionately low access to quality healthcare and have a disproportionately high number of low-income workers. Mandatory paid sick leave would effectively allow those employees to reduce their COVID-19 risk through quarantining while keeping them financially afloat, helping to create decreased racial and ethnic COVID-19 disparity.” Angela Sidhu, 14, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Ashburn, Virginia
“Yeah I think federally mandated paid sick leave would help to decrease the rate at which corona spreads for not just minorities, but everyone. It doesn’t really matter what race you are. Any form of social distancing would decrease the disparity of coronavirus cases, and paying people so they can support their families without having to be around others in a workspace accomplishes that.” Sam Gwon, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax, Virginia

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