New Research Debunks Right-Wing Media Myths About Effects Of Paid Leave

Research Suggests Paid Sick Leave Improves Public Health

Several media outlets highlighted new research that found workers that had access to paid sick leave are less likely to come to work when contagious -- thus slowing the spread of diseases and improving overall public health. While this may seem like an obvious conclusion, right-wing media have criticized paid sick time and other forms of earned leave as unnecessary “giveaways” for low-wage workers.

Research: Paid Time Off For Illness Prevents Its Spread

NBER: Paid Sick Leave May Prevent “Influenza-Like Infections” From Spreading Throughout Local Populations. Economists Stefan Pichler and Nicolas Ziebarth published a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper on August 6 finding that when workers are granted paid sick leave they are less likely to come into work when contagious and therefore less likely to unwittingly “infect co-workers and customers.” The researchers analyzed Google Flu Trends data from 2003 through 2015 and found that in seven major cities in the United States with “relatively comprehensive” paid sick leave -- San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Newark, and New York -- the law may have prevented “about 100 influenza-like infections per week” per 100,000 residents. From the paper:

Through the US sick pay mandates, about 20K employees per 100K population gain sick leave coverage for themselves and their children. Our estimates suggest that the relatively comprehensive laws at the level of seven major U.S. cities helped preventing about 100 influenza-like infections per week and 100K population. Infections rates may further decrease in the medium to long-run when employees have accrued larger amounts of paid sick days. [National Bureau of Economic Research, 8/6/16]

Media Highlight Study And Discuss Study's Consequences For Consumers And Workers

Wall Street Journal: Access To Paid Leave Shows Significant Reduction In Spread Of The Flu. The Wall Street Journal reported on the research from NBER that found worker use of paid sick leave leads to a reduction in the spread of the flu in an August 23 article. Reporter Shayndi Raice noted that “unlike most industrialized countries, U.S. workers are not guaranteed pay when they take off from work due to an illness” and this has led to a patchwork of local laws to address the issue. From the article:

A new National Bureau of Economic Research paper argues that one reason for that is access to paid sick leave. The paper by Stefan Pichler and Nicolas R. Ziebarth argues that the general flu rate “decreases significantly” when employees have access to paid time off due to illness. It also found that more people play hooky, or stay home when they aren’t actually contagious.

Unlike most industrialized countries, U.S. workers are not guaranteed pay when they take off from work due to an illness. Messrs. Pichler and Ziebarth say half of American workers don’t have access to paid sick leave.

In the U.S., the fight over access to paid sick leave has largely been about income inequality. Labor Department data from 2015 shows that only around 31% of the lowest-earning quarter of private-sector workers had access to paid sick leave, while 84% of the highest-earning quarter did. [The Wall Street Journal, 8/23/16]

New York Magazine: “Revolutionary Thought: Letting People Stay Home When They’re Sick Without Docking Their Pay Could Help Curb The Spread Of Diseases.” New York magazine lampooned the lack of paid sick leave by joking that letting sick people stay home from work to reduce the spread of diseases was a “revolutionary” idea in an August 23 article. Health editor Susan Rinkunas discussed the serious issue that only 31 percent of low income earners have access to paid sick leave and that research shows a lack of paid sick time could increase encounters with the influenza virus:

Here’s a revolutionary thought: Letting people stay home when they’re sick without docking their pay could help curb the spread of diseases. Specifically, a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the flu rate “decreases significantly” when employees are given paid sick days.

Many people in the United States don’t have paid sick leave (or paid family leave, for that matter); the authors say half of American works don’t have paid sick days. Unsurprisingly, it’s lower-income workers who have it the worst: About 84 percent of the highest-earning quarter of private-sector employees have paid sick days compared to just 31 percent of the lowest-earning quarter of workers, per 2015 Labor Department data. [New York, 8/23/16]

Time: “You Should Care” If Others Have Paid Sick Leave. Time magazine contributor Martha White reported that the findings in the NBER study should not just be a concern for co-workers but for consumers as well since “workers in low-paying jobs are disproportionately likely to be the ones who go without paid sick leave.” These jobs tend to be “in service industries like retail or food service, which puts them into contact with a large number of people over the course of a day.” [Time, 8/24/16]

Fox News Has Repeatedly Attacked All Forms Of Paid Leave

Fox’s Charles Payne: Paid Leave Is Part Of “This Giant Welfare Giveaway Utopia.” Fox Business’ Charles Payne attacked paid leave as part of what he called a “laundry list” of progressive policies for workers that would lead to “fewer jobs” on the October 19 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto. Payne continued that these policies are nothing more than the “government encroaching on private businesses and telling them what they must do” and reflected progressive desires to create a “giant welfare giveaway utopia”:

CHARLES PAYNE: Yeah, I think the bigger family value thing is having a job in the first place. It goes along with all of the other stuff. Higher minimum wage, the forced part-time work stuff from Obamacare. All of these things, as far as the government encroaching on private businesses and telling them what they must do, all they're going to ultimately do is create fewer jobs and I think we've seen an example of that in the last 7 years. Now Bernie Sanders himself, this is part of a litany, a laundry list that adds up to $18 trillion. So of course the average person's going to be taxed. Everyone's going to be taxed. And this giant welfare giveaway utopia is just going to fall apart. It's just going to be another example of Greece or Venezuela all over again. If you really want to help American families just create an economy that's growing, where everyone can find jobs, and if you have the skillset you'll probably get more days off but let's get jobs first. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 10/19/15]

Fox’s Stuart Varney Dismisses Paid Sick Leave As A “Giveaway.” Fox Business host Stuart Varney dismissed potential laws mandating paid sick leave as nothing more than a “giveaway” and a political ploy aimed at making Republicans “look bad” on the January 15, 2015, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom. Co-host Martha MacCallum flippantly diminished the importance of paid sick leave for working families and other employees saying, “What happened to, if you are really sick and you really can't come to work you don't come to work, and then if you are not really sick then you don't get any sick days?”

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 1/15/15]

Fox's Stephen Moore: Laws Creating Paid Sick Days “Very Dangerous For Cities” Conservative economic pundit Stephen Moore claimed extended paid sick time protections to low-wage workers would be “very dangerous for cities” on the January 17, 2014, edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto. Moore -- a former Fox contributor and Wall Street Journal editorial board member, and current advisor to Donald Trump -- also claimed protecting workers would be “hostile” to business and that businesses “are sick of being treated like ATM machines” by progressive policymakers. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 1/17/14]

Fox Even Attacked The Seattle Sick Leave Ordinance Cited As A Success By NBER. On the September 19, 2011, edition of America’s Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum and correspondent Dan Springer bemoaned a new ordinance in Seattle, WA requiring paid sick leave for employees -- the same ordinance cited by the above NBER study as successfully aiding public health outcomes. MacCallum labeled the sick leave ordinance as an “entitlement” and falsely claimed it could put small businesses “under water.” Media Matters noted at the time that Fox ignored the successful implementation of a sick leave ordinance in San Francisco after which the Seattle law was modeled -- the San Francisco ordinance was also cited as a success in the above study. [Media Matters, 9/19/11]