Expanding paid leave to more workers would build an equitable recovery

Clark Goldenrod
Apr 22, 2021
As we continue to live through a global pandemic and perhaps the most unequal recession in modern history, we have called on policymakers to take bold actions so that all Minnesotans can get through these crises, and to build a more equitable future.  

This session, the Minnesota House is moving two important proposals that would allow more workers to take care of themselves or a loved one when illness strikes; these proposals are included in Governor Tim Walz’s proposed budget as well. House File 7 would allow employees across the state to earn sick and safe leave, and House File 1200 would create a statewide insurance program for employees to take paid medical and family leave. Both of these proposals are also included in House omnibus budget bills.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the clear importance of the work that grocery workers, food processors, home health aides, and other essential and frontline workers do every day. But many of these workers and others are often forced to make impossible choices when they are sick: they can either lose pay while they go to a doctor’s appointment, or they can go to work sick. The same challenge arises when Minnesota workers need to care for a sick family member. And when a long-term medical issue arises, the reality of lost wages can be even more distressing.  

The pandemic has made it clearer than ever that, for many of us, illness can also result in economic hardship. But supporting workers so they can take paid time off to take care of their needs or those of their loved ones would be an affirmation of the equitable and inclusive economy that we must as a state work toward. And it builds a stronger economy as well. 

Paid leave is good for workers and the economy 

Earned sick leave and paid family medical leave are two important worker supports that build a stronger workforce and economy. Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family and medical leave. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have earned sick time laws; and within our state, the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth all have implemented sick leave policies for people who work in those communities. 

Research and experience have shown that employees with access to earned paid leave see a positive impact on their earnings, health, productivity, and economic security. And employee turnover is reduced, which gives employers more stability in their staff and lowers costs by reducing the need to attract and train new employees.  

Paid leave policies would help build a more equitable economy 

A reality in our current economy is that low-wage workers and workers of color are less likely to have access to paid leave. Strengthening sick leave and paid family and medical leave would take the lessons learned in the pandemic and build a more equitable economy.  

Data put together prior to the municipal expansions of earned sick leave showed that over 40 percent of workers in Minnesota lacked earned sick leave. But almost half of Black workers, 60 percent of Latinx workers, and two-thirds of Minnesota workers earning less than $15,000 a year lacked earned sick leave. While municipal earned sick and safe leave policies have certainly helped more Minnesota workers get the paid time off they need, structural gaps in access to paid leave remain. 

When we look at family leave, a similar story emerges. National data show that about 60 percent of white workers, 62 percent of Black workers, and 73 percent of Hispanic workers were unable or ineligible to take family leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. Furthermore, due to a number of factors (including environmental racism and discrimination in the health care system) Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color are more likely to face chronic health conditions or have caregiving responsibilities, meaning they’re more likely to face economic hardship in the absence of paid family and medical leave. While 13 percent of white workers reported that they needed paid family or medical leave but couldn’t take it, roughly a quarter of Latinx and Black workers reported the same. 

It's time to ensure all Minnesotans have paid leave   

As we pass the one-year anniversary of this unprecedented pandemic and the deep economic recession that accompanied it, we’ve seen the severe harm to the health and economic well-being to workers, families, and communities when folks lack paid leave. The pandemic has made more visible what has long been true: that Minnesota’s BIPOC and lower-income workers especially pay the price from inadequate policy choices and the gaping inequities in economic supports. Policymakers at all levels of government must act to meet the immediate health and economic needs of all Minnesotans. And just as important is pursuing policy changes, like expanding paid leave, to build an economy that works for everyone.