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U.S. workers lost about $28 billion in wages during Covid-19 due to lack of access to paid leave, report finds

  • Workers without access to paid leave lost an average of $815 in wages for a week of missed work during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the Urban Institute.
  • In total, workers missed out on approximately $28 billion more in wages from March 2020 to February 2022 compared to the previous two years.
  • While there have been efforts to expand the patchwork of paid leave policies that exist, there are reasons why gaps continue to persist, the research found.

Families, parents and caregivers call on Congress to include paid family and medical leave in the Build Back Better legislative package during an all-day Nov. 2, 2021 vigil in Washington, D.C.Paul Morigi | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Missing a week of work due to illness, child care or other obligations during Covid-19 cost workers without access to paid leave an average of $815 in wages, according to new research from the Urban Institute.

Consequently, workers missed out on roughly $28 billion more in wages between March 2020 and February 2022 compared to the previous two years, according to the report from the nonprofit research organization with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The U.S. is one of the few countries that does not have national policies for either paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave. Instead, workers face a "patchwork" of benefits and programs through employers or on the federal, state and local level, according to the research. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides employees with unpaid leave provided they work for a covered employer and have reasons that qualify.

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The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the gaps in paid leave coverage that many employees face.

Workers reported a 50% increase in absences from March 2020 through February 2022 due to illness, childcare, family or personal obligations compared to the preceding two years, according to the research, which looked at the Current Population Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The weekly unpaid absence rate among all workers jumped 60% from March 2020 through February 2022.

The majority of absences — 81% — were due to worker illness.

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