New data show that access to paid sick days remains vastly unequal: Amid federal inaction, 61% of low-wage workers are without paid sick days

The spike in child poverty highlighted in the latest Census release illustrated the consequences of allowing crucial government provisions to expire. Although less discussed, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—a tax credit incentivizing employers to provide sick leave—was another important government provision that expired two years ago. Few policymakers seem intent on renewing it, though some have repeatedly proposed federal legislation that would make paid sick days a permanent benefit. 

Absent federal action, new Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today reveal stark inequalities in access to paid sick leave. One that hits hard is the inability of 61% of the lowest-wage workers in the U.S. to be able to earn paid sick days to care for themselves or family members.

Figure A below breaks down access to paid sick days: Whereas 96% of the highest-wage workers (top 10%) had access to paid sick days, only 39% of the lowest-paid workers (bottom 10%) are able to earn paid sick days. That means the highest-wage workers are 2.5 times as likely to have access to paid sick leave as the lowest-paid workers.

Workers without paid sick leave often have to choose between going to work sick (or sending a child to school sick) or risk losing their job or forgoing a vital household expense. In a forthcoming EPI report, we will demonstrate that the costs of these expenses from not having paid sick leave can be high.

Most high-wage workers have paid sick days; most low-wage workers do not: Share of private-sector workers with access to paid sick days, by wage group, 2023

Category Share of workers who have access to paid sick days
Bottom 25% 56%
Second 25% 82%
Third 25% 86%
Top 25% 94%
Bottom 10% 39%
Top 10% 96%


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