Workers lost $28 billion in wages during pandemic

47 million work absences were reported from March 2020 to this year due to illness and family matters.

Workers without paid sick leave during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic lost an estimated $28 billion in wages overall, according to a new Urban Institute/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report.

The United States has no federal paid sick leave policies . Instead, employees rely on direct programs and benefits with their companies and, with federal, state and local government programs. The report revealed that sick leave due to illness, childcare and other family matters increased by 50%. That is, 47 million absences were reported between March 2020 and February 2022.

Less than half of the paid wages

Eighty-one percent of employee absences were due to illness or medical conditions, and less than half of them were paid. On the other hand, of the 15% of absences due to family or personal obligations, only one third were paid. And, of the 3% of childcare leave, less than a quarter is paid.

The report notes that worker absenteeism was particularly high depending on socioeconomic status. Workers who earned less than $25,000 a year were three times more likely to be unpaid than those earning $100,000 or more.

In relation to gender, a woman was 40% more likely to be unpaid if she missed work. And in terms of race or ethnicity, nearly two-thirds of Hispanic workers and 57% of black workers did not take leave for child care, personal illness and other family obligations.

The study estimates millions of dollars lost by workers. The data were collected using information on the average weekly salary of respondents in the two years prior to the pandemic. On average, a medical leave lasts about five days. Total lost wages during the period March 2020 to February 2022 compared to the average of the previous two years March 2018 to February 2020 would amount to about $28 billion.