Giving employees paid sick leave could reduce the death rate of working Americans, a recent study found research shows.
The study was done by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and published by Elsevier. It analyzed data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System. The researchers looked at county-by-county deaths from 1999 to 2019 among adults between the ages of 25 and 64. They then estimate the relationships between these deaths and minimum wage levels and paid sick leave requirements.
The findings showed that laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave led to lower rates of suicide and homicide among men and lower homicide and alcohol-related deaths among women. Specifically, just a one-hour increase in paid sick leave requirements was associated with a 0.1 percent decrease in suicides and a 0.2 percent decrease in homicides for men. For women, this was associated with a 0.2% reduction in homicides and a 0.4% reduction in alcohol-related deaths.
Going from zero to 40 hours of paid sick leave would reduce the homicide rate by more than 13 percent for women and nearly 8 percent for men.
Lack of paid sick leave increases the chances of economic hardship and job loss for those who take time off, the study says. This can lead to suicide, drug use, and other risky behaviors. It can also make healthy workers sick when exposed to sick co-workers.
But death rates could be improved with government action, the study said. The US is one of the few developed countries without a national paid sick leave policy. State laws that prevent local governments from passing mandates likely contributed to a 6 percent increase in the death rate 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 enact paid sick leave but were blocked by their states. If the counties had been successful, the death rate among workers would have been 7.5 percent lower, the researchers predicted.
“State prevention laws that protect profits over people may be shortening the lives of working-age Americans,” said co-researcher Jennifer Karas Montez in news release. “We were surprised by how large the ‘deterrence effect’ turned out to be for paid sick leave mandates.”
Although the study found an association between paid sick leave and mortality, it found no association between the minimum wage and mortality. This differs from previous studies, the report said. The reason for this may be that the survey included all working-age adults, not just those with low levels of education. Paid sick leave can benefit all employed adults, while the minimum wage affects only those at the bottom of the wage distribution.
Also, since there is no federal requirement for paid sick leave, the 40-hour change makes a big difference. The same cannot be said for the minimum wage.
“In contrast, state or local increases [minimum wage] are relative to the long-established federal minimum,” the study said.
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