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The results of a new poll show that while paid sick days is an employment benefit many Americans believe should be ensured by the government as a "basic labor standard," too many are going without.

In fact, according to the survey sponsored by Washington DC's Public Welfare Foundation and conducted through the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC), 86 percent of respondents support a plan that would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days per year.

It's astounding - and more than ironic - that in a seemingly health-consumed society, where every other person knows their "body mass index", and fast-food restaurants market fresh salads to a weight-obsessed citizenry, where we concern ourselves with health fad after health fad, we have net yet held our institutions up to a higher standard. In order to truly thrive, health cannot solely be predicated on individual choice - eat this and stay healthy! Work out and stay healthy! Lucky enough to have the resources to access high quality health care? You, too, can maintain your health. We need governmental support, of course, to ensure that all Americans have access to the tools and resources that will help keep us all healthy - it's why we support health care reform measures, access to high quality health care and information, and mandated paid sick days as well.

Interestingly, unlike issues like health care reform and access to high quality health provision, support for paid sick days remains strong among people of "...every racial group, every income level, every age group, every part of the country, and both political parties" who "see paid sick days as a basic worker’s right, just like being paid a decent wage, " says Public Welfare Education president Deborah Leff.

Lack of adequate paid sick days is definitely enacting a toll on Americans' health and lives. According to the report, more than 40 million workers in this country do not have paid sick days, and many more do not have paid sick days that they can use to care for a sick child or family member. This doesn't just affect the individual and his or her family, though. It affects co-workers who share space with those who must come to work ill; it affects worker productivity; and, of course, it affects our children as well. From the report:

  • More than half of workers without paid sick days (55 percent) have gone to work with a contagious illness like the flu, compared to 37 percent of workers with paid sick days.
  • People without paid sick days are twice as likely as those with paid sick days to use hospital emergency rooms (20 percent vs. 10 percent) because they "were unable to take off from work to get medical care during normal job hours."
  • Nearly twice as many workers without paid sick days (24 percent) have sent a sick child to school or daycare than workers with paid sick days (14 percent).

What's most encouraging about the report, however, is that this is an issue which cuts across party lines. While women, African Americans, people with low incomes and Democrats express the highest support, the foundation's web site also notes that, "64 percent of people who call themselves strong Republicans say they see paid sick days as very important."

And while support for paid sick days decreased a bit from 2008 to 2010 likely because of our economic recession and high unemployment rates, the survey found that Americans were more likely, regardless of political affiliation, to support a political candidate who favored paid sick days.

It's why the Healthy Families Act is so crucial to American's health and lives. There are no federal policies in place that require workplaces to provide paid sick days to employees in the United States. This act would change that by guaranteeing up to seven days of paid sick days to workers in this country.

American workers shouldn't need to risk losing their jobs when they are truly ill, must take care of a sick child or ill family member. This survey confirms that Americans feel it's far past time we ensure this basic standard in the workplace.

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