Paid sick leave linked to less mortality: US study

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, paid sick leave became a hot topic of conversation as people began to seriously ask if it could save lives.

The answer is yes – but higher paid sick leave is associated with lower mortality rates long before the pandemic began, researchers found.

The study, published Monday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, analyzed two decades of data on US deaths and compared it to statistics on paid sick hours. nationwide.

What they found was that even an hour of paid sick leave can reduce mortality from suicide, homicide and alcohol poisoning by measurable amounts, according to the study’s model.

The study also looked at which states restricted local governments from increasing their paid sick leave and found that these exemptions can have a deadly impact.

Jennifer Karas Montez, a professor of sociology at Syracuse University and a co-investigator on the study, said in a press release: “State exemptions that protect public profits may be in jeopardy. shorten the life expectancy of working-age Americans.

“We were surprised by how large the ‘incentive effect’ on paid sick leave duties turned out to be. We predict that mortality could fall by more than 5% in major downtown counties currently bound by exemption laws if they could mandate an annual paid sick leave requirement of 40 hours. “.

The study calculated that there are four specific counties — Orange County in Florida and three in Texas — where working-age adult mortality would be 7.5% lower in 2019 if they tried. raise its mandatory paid leave haven’t blocked by state law.

The researchers collected mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1999-2019, focusing on adults ages 25-64, and sorted them by county.

They looked at both the minimum wage and paid sick leave, but found no statistically significant association between the minimum wage and mortality.

It’s a different story, though, when looking at paid sick leave.

The study’s modeling found that an hour’s increase in paid sick leave was associated with a 0.2 percent reduction in homicide rates among women and men.

It was also associated with a 0.4% reduction in alcohol mortality in women and a 0.1% reduction in suicide rates in men.

While the percentages are smaller, this would reduce homicide deaths per 100,000 people for both men and women, 400 fewer alcohol deaths among women, and 100 fewer suicides in the United States. men, according to the study.

And when comparing regions with no paid sick leave baseline with those with mandatory 40 hours, the difference is even more stark.

“According to models, switching from zero to 40 hours of paid sick leave would reduce homicide mortality by more than 13% in women and almost 8% in men,” the study said.

During the pandemic, the question of paid sick leave is more urgent than ever, with advocates in many countries pushing for widespread paid sick leave to allow people to stay home and prevent spread of COVID-19 without incurring economic consequences.

In Canada, a number of provinces have implemented sick leave policies since then, but many remain temporary or disease-bound with specific COVID-19. An amendment this summer to the Canadian Labor Code would provide 10 days of paid sick leave for federally managed private sector workers, but advocates say more needs to be done. to implement real paid sick leave nationwide.

The results of this new study show that you don’t need a global pandemic for paid sick leave to have an impact on how many people live or die in a year.

“Our study adds to a growing body of literature showing the importance of states’ economic and labor policies on working-age adult mortality,” Douglas said. A. Wolf, a Syracuse University professor and principal investigator of the study, said in the statement.

After looking at the link between paid sick leave and mortality, the researchers used the model to see if mortality would change if laws that favored the restriction of paid sick leave were broken. rejected.

Incentive laws affect the legislative power of local governments. They are often used to harmonize local, state, and federal policymaking and establish baselines, such as when the federal government sets a national minimum wage.

But it could also mean setting a legislative “ceiling” that prevents local governments from setting more progressive regulations, such as preventing counties from requiring more paid sick leave.

The study looked at not only four counties with blocked paid sick leave laws, but also in 21 counties that currently do not have a provision for paid sick leave, but would be subject to state waivers if they tried to introduce one. the law.

If these counties were given the freedom to adopt paid sick leave, the researchers predict, their mortality rates could drop from 3% to more than 10%.

“Consequences of preferential legislation hinder local government innovation, limit opportunities to earn a living wage and leave work for medical care without financial impact, increase mortality risk in infants and working-age adults, and contribute to geographical disparities in mortality,” said Wolf.

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