This Report Shows Why So Many Workers Can’t Afford to Call Out Sick

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When’s the last time you woke up with a pounding migraine or more serious affliction, cursing the morning when you realize you have to drag yourself to work?

The problem: You don’t get paid sick days.

An even bigger problem: You’re definitely not alone.

A new study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that while about two-thirds of U.S. workers do have access to paid sick time, less than 30% of people at the bottom of the earning spectrum get the perk.

It’s a huge blow to a group of workers who already work paycheck-to-paycheck. For a household earning between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, one unpaid sick day can cost an entire month’s worth of medication and prescriptions, fruits and vegetables or car insurance, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Here’s a specific breakdown of other tradeoffs to take a day off on the mend:

paid sick leave
source: Economic Policy Institute

The solution for a lot of these workers isn’t good.

Going to Work Sick Hurts More Than Just Workers

“For the millions of workers without access to paid sick days, many workers who are sick feel forced to go to work, where they are less likely to be productive and more prone to mistakes,” EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould writes in the report.

Further, they put their colleagues — or customers — at risk of contracting whatever they may have.

Nearly 70% of women surveyed in a 2016 National Partnership for Women & Families study said they have gone to work in the fast-food industry while sick.

Pair that with a 2015 paper in the Journal of Food Protection showing that about half of foodborne illness outbreaks are due to employees working while sick, and you’ve got a pretty nasty situation.

But there might be some good news on the way.

Paid Sick Leave Policies Look Like They’re on the Rise — Sort Of

There are currently five states that require employers to provide at least a few sick days. Next month, Arizona will launch its own law, while the state of Washington gears up to implement its policy next year.

Despite Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoing a sick-day bill last month, state lawmakers may try to override the move later this year.

And 31 cities or counties have enacted similar legislation.

The laws seem to help low-wage workers without crippling businesses, at least according to a 2016 study by the Center for Economic Policy and Research. That analysis found that 1.4 million workers gained access to paid sick days after New York City implemented its policy in 2013, and 85% of employers said it had no effect on business costs.

Still, the EPI report says that more can be done, and advocates for a national law tackling the issue. But the outlook isn’t great.

“The Healthy Families Act, first introduced in 2004, would allow workers in workplaces with 15 or more employees to earn at least one hour of paid sick time per 30 hours worked, among other provisions,” Gould says in the report. “While Congress has reintroduce [sic] the Healthy Families Act with stronger sponsorship than before, the act is not expected to advance. More action is needed to reach workers across the economy regardless of their wage levels, hours, or where their jobs are located.”

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.