Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic & Social Inequality

Source: Liz Ben-Ishai, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), April 14, 2014

Rising economic inequality is a growing concern for many Americans. The widening gap between those at the top and bottom of the income scale is pushing decision makers to consider policy solutions that can begin to address these inequities. Wages are often the focal point in debates about income inequality. Often overlooked, however, is a key aspect of compensation: paid leave. Lack of paid leave, which is concentrated among low wage jobs, exacerbates the inequalities that come with the wage gap. For those at the bottom, this further contributes to economic instability because lack of paid leave frequently leads to lost wages and job loss. In fact, one in seven workers reports having lost a job to recover from illness or care for a family member. … In this economy, the majority of job growth is taking place at the lowest wage levels—a trend projected to continue for the foreseeable future. Low-wage and low-quality jobs are not just a temporary stop in many workers’ career trajectories; mobility is very limited and few move up to higher-wage jobs. This means that ensuring workers in low wage jobs receive paid leave is a crucial part of making lasting changes that address inequality. Lack of paid leave and other aspects of low-quality jobs hinder family and economic stability. Without such stability, inequality becomes further entrenched as it becomes harder and harder for many hard-working Americans to get by, let alone rise up….