Millions of workers in the United States do not have paid sick leave, leaving them especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus and increasing the risk of widespread infection in the country, as reported by the Guardian.
Only 30% of the country's lowest-wage workers have paid sick leave, and only 58% of service workers — whose jobs cannot be done remotely — had paid sick leave in 2019, Fast Company reported.
“Their earnings are low so they can’t afford to take unpaid leave and when they are sick they have to keep working and expose other people in the process,” Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, told the Guardian.
“That’s the reason advocates for paid leave make the case – it’s not just for the worker, it’s for the public good,” he said.
One worker who spoke to the Guardian, an airplane cabin cleaner named Leila Benitez, said that she had to pay hundreds of dollars in medical bills to get a doctor’s note when she “finally” takes a day off due to sickness.
The United States is one of the few developed nations that does not guarantee paid sick leave.
About one in three workers have zero paid sick days, Karen Scott, a PhD Student in Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote last month in the Conversation.
“These conditions create a near-guarantee that workers will defy public health warnings and trudge into their workplaces, regardless of symptoms,” she wrote.
Scott cited one study that found that as many as 7 million additional people in the US were infected with cases of swine flu due to their fellow employees continuing to work while sick.
A lack of affordable healthcare is also a major issue. Even if the government offers free coronavirus tests, millions of Americans — such as the nearly 30 million Americans without health insurance — may avoid going to an emergency room or doctor’s office out of concern about the costs, Sabrina Corlette, the founder and co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, told PBS Newshour.
Healthcare costs can also saddle low-wage workers with exorbitant debt, as was the case with Joyce Barnes, a home healthcare aide who told the Guardian that she is still having to make monthly payments on bills from a hospital stay last July.
“They had to do a test on my stomach when I was sick. That one test cost me $3,000 and I’m still paying it because I can’t afford to pay everything back,” she told the Guardian.
There are currently more than 500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US. Worldwide, it has infected over 113,000 people, and killed nearly 4,000 people.
Global pandemics are likely to increase in frequency in the future, and those living in poverty are especially vulnerable. It's an issue addressed within the UN's Global Goals, under Goal 3 for good health and well-being for all.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.