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Michelle Noehren's picture

Re-posted from Working Mother Magazine

While all working women would benefit from access to paid sick leave, the latest data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that 44 million workers in the U.S. did not have access to a single paid sick day during 2010.

A growing segment of women are facing an incredibly difficult battle in balancing work and family obligations. Women in the “sandwich generation,” or those who care for a child under the age of 18 while also caring for an elderly relative, face significant difficulty in fulfilling their responsibilities at the workplace while offering the necessary care to their loved ones.

And it is working mothers who disproportionately face this unique challenge. Research indicates that women are the primary caretakers of their children and are most often the parents who stay home with a sick child, schedule their children’s doctors’ appointments and take care of organizing follow-up care. Consequently, half (49 percent) of working mothers must miss work when their child is sick with a minor illness, such as a cold or ear infection (compared with 30 percent of working fathers).

Similarly, according to a 2010 study from Metlife, working women provide the majority of care to older frail, disabled or chronically ill relatives, and demographic trends indicate that a greater number of employees of all ages will assume the role of family caregiver because of our increasingly aging population.

Juggling all these responsibilities proves to be very challenging and can lead to some very negative outcomes. The same Metlife study also revealed that female employees -- in every age group -- providing eldercare experience more stress at home than employees without eldercare responsibilities. Additionally, this segment of working women finds it more difficult to care for their own health and according to the study, are less likely to report having had annual mammograms than non-caregivers.

While the study did not specifically mention access to paid sick days, we can estimate that a significant number of women providing care to both children and elderly parents lack paid leave. As a result, not only does this segment of women face higher rates of stress and anxiety as well as potential negative health outcomes, they also lose out financially.

According to an article in the Monthly Labor Review, almost half of women between the ages of 43 and 54 provide some sort of support to an aging parent. Women in the sandwich generation provide an annual average of $1,521 in financial support to elderly parents and spend, on average, 23 hours a week providing eldercare. Without access to paid sick days, these working women are left choosing between providing care for their families and earning a full paycheck.

As the baby boomer population ages, this issue will impact working mothers, families and businesses on an even greater level. Many states, including Connecticut, are considering enacting legislation that would require businesses to provide a minimum standard of paid sick days to employees and that’s a reform we should all support.

Michelle Noehren is the Events & Special Projects Manager at the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. She serves on the Connecticut National Organization for Women’s Board of Directors.

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