Giving employees paid sick leave may lower mortality rates for working Americans, recently published research shows.
The study was done by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and was published by Elsevier. It analyzed data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System. Researchers looked at deaths by county from 1999 to 2019 among adults between ages 25 and 64. Then they estimated associations between these death counts and minimum wage levels and paid sick leave requirements.
The findings show that laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave led to lower suicide and homicide rates among men and lower homicide and alcohol-related deaths among women. Specifically, just a one-hour increase in paid sick leave requirements is associated with a 0.1% reduction in suicide and a 0.2% reduction in homicide for men. For women, it was associated with a 0.2% reduction in homicide and a 0.4% reduction in alcohol deaths.
Going from zero to 40 hours of paid sick leave would lead to a decline in homicide mortality of more than 13% for women and nearly 8% for men.
The lack of paid sick leave increases the chances of economic hardship and job loss for those who take time off, the study said. This can lead to suicide, drug use and other risky behaviors. It can also cause healthy workers to get sick when they are exposed to ill colleagues.
But mortality rates could be improved with government action, the study said. The U.S. is one of the few developed countries without any national paid sick leave policy. State laws that prevented local governments from enacting mandates likely contributed to a 6% increase in mortality among working adults from 2010 to 2017, according to the report.
For example, four counties — Orange County in Florida and Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties in Texas — tried to mandate paid sick leave, but were prevented by their states. Had the counties been successful, mortality among workers would have been 7.5% lower, the researchers predicted.
“State preemption laws that protect profits over people may be shortening the lives of working-age Americans,” said co-investigator Jennifer Karas Montez in a news release. “We were surprised by how large the ‘preemption effect’ for paid sick leave mandates turned out to be.”
While the study found an association between paid sick leave and mortality, it did not between minimum wage and mortality. This differs from past studies, the report said. The reason for this could have been that the study included all working-age adults and not just those with low levels of education. Paid sick leave can benefit all employed adults, whereas minimum wage only affects those toward the bottom of the wage distribution.
Additionally, since there is no federal paid sick leave requirement, a 40-hour change makes a big difference. The same cannot be said for minimum wage.
“In contrast, increases in a state or local [minimum wage] are relative to the long-established federal minimum,” the study said.
Photo: dragana991, Getty Images
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