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In the advocacy world, talking points to support paid sick days have been developed to fit every constituency:

  • To appeal to working parents, labor and women’s advocates, you might highlight the fact that paid sick days are a modern necessity in a society where many families have both parents in the workforce – and the majority (71%) of all women with dependent children under the age of 18 are in the labor force;
  • To appeal to policymakers sympathetic to health and children’s issues, you might frame your discussion around the fact that children experience better short- and long-term health outcomes when they are cared for by their parents; and
  • To appeal to the business community, you might choose to emphasize the boons to employers, including decreased turnover and improved productivity among workers; the low cost of such a valuable benefit (a study for New York City businesses estimated an average cost between $5.37 - $7.94 per worker per week); and the successful experience of paid sick day policy in places like San Francisco.

Every advocate should be armed with these points to make a comprehensive argument.  But statistics and talking points can sometimes obscure the real impact that public policy has on people’s decision-making and daily lives.

Working families on lower wages are more likely not to have paid sick days.  For these families, taking a day for their own illness, or to care for a sick child, can mean the loss of a day’s wages, good hours or a desirable shift, or in the worst instance, their job.  As a result – in an effort to avoid these outcomes – these families are more likely to send a child to school sick or come to work sick themselves.

The public health aspect of paid sick days caught the public’s attention during the height of the H1N1 outbreak last year.  And the recession may have further heightened awareness of the need for such policy, particularly among families who have had to take up work with lower pay or without benefits in order to make ends meet.   But the lack of a nationwide paid sick day policy is a reality for many of our nation’s families all of the time.

Talking points are important – but the bottom line is that a sick day is needed when you or your child (or spouse or elderly parent) is experiencing an illness and is at their most vulnerable.  When that day comes, it should not also come with a choice between your family and paying the bills.

Megan Curran is the Senior Director for Family Economics at First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions.  She can be reached at

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