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FACT SHEET: The Importance of a National Paid Sick Leave Law for Young Workers of Color

The United States is the only wealthy country in the world that does not guarantee workers a right to paid sick leave. In fact, 28 million Americans do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave a year, and 80% of those that do are not allowed to use those days to care for a family member. Millions more work for employers that have policies that may penalize them for taking leave. Without access to paid sick leave, workers are forced to choose between their job and caring for their health and the health of their family members. This is a problem especially affecting young workers of color aged 16 to 24 facing barriers to achieving economic security and thriving.

Youth of Color Disproportionately Lack Paid Sick Leave

  • Young workers disproportionately work in low-wage jobs, especially in the hospitality and retail industries. In 2019, 45% of workers aged 16-24 worked in leisure, hospitality, and retail.

  • These industries with youth overrepresentation are the least likely to provide paid sick leave. For example, only 64% of workers in sales and related industries had any access to paid sick leave in 2020. The service sector—comprising leisure, hospitality, and retail—is the employment sector least likely to receive paid sick leave.

  • At the same time, Black and Latine workers are more likely to be in low-wage positions and are the groups least likely to have access to paid sick days. The lowest paid quarter of the workforce is majority Black and Latine.

  • Black and Latine workers aged 16-24 are more likely to be underemployed than both their white counterparts and older adults; this includes those who are involuntarily working part-time and would prefer full-time employment. Part-time work is also much less likely to offer paid sick leave than full-time work.

Youth of Color Would Especially Benefit from Access to Paid Sick Leave Due to their Family Structures and Caregiving Responsibilities

  • Guaranteed access to paid sick leave would provide young workers of color much-needed support and flexibility to handle personal illness or family health needs, thus reducing barriers to entering and remaining in the workforce and providing greater economic security to young workers of color.

  • Young adults are a large portion of caregivers: there are over 3 million Gen Z caregivers, or caregivers born between 1997 and 2012.

  • Youth of color are also more likely to live in diverse family structures, meaning they are especially in need of paid sick leave laws that recognize those family structures.

    • Black, Latine, and Asian and Pacific Islander young adults are more likely to live with extended families that may include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, as well as their parents and siblings.

    • LGBTQ youth of color especially are also disproportionately likely to live in chosen families, often due to stigma within their families of origin.

The U.S. Needs a National Right to Paid Sick Leave that Also Serves Youth of Color

    • The Healthy Families Act, a bill that would establish a national right to paid sick leave, has been introduced in Congress every year since 2006, but never passed.

    • Currently, only 16 states (including Washington, D.C.) and 20 localities have laws guaranteeing paid sick leave to covered workers. It is critical we enshrine a nationwide right to paid sick leave, and such a law must reflect several key principles that would particularly benefit young people of color.

    • A national right to paid sick leave must contain:

      • Universal coverage: Especially given that young people of color disproportionately work part-time and in low-income positions unlikely to provide paid sick leave, it is critical a national law have expansive coverage to account for these oft-overlooked workers.

      • Broad sick leave purposes: A paid sick leave law must reflect and permit the many reasons workers need to take sick leave, such as for an emergency room visit, family caregiving, or public health emergency.

      • An inclusive family definition: Because young people of color are more likely to live in diverse family arrangements, and need to care for a variety of family members, any law serving young people of color must reflect this reality.

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