A new report by the Urban Institute calls for setting national policies so that low-wage working parents will get at least seven paid sick days a year and the right to ask for flexible work schedules so they can better care for their children and help them improve their performance in school.
The recommendations, which were discussed at a July 16 forum hosted by the Washington-based think tank, come in the first of eight essays by institute analysts and economists. The project, which is being financed by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation of Flint, Mich., and the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, is aimed at proposing ways to improve living and educational conditions for low-wage working families.
Noting that one-third of U.S. families with children struggle to make ends meet, Urban Institute analysts contend that policies aimed at helping working parents cope with child-rearing demands are one place to start the effort. In addition to the policy changes on paid sick leave and flexible work schedules, the report calls for expanding federal child-care subsidies for low-income familes and fully funding the federal Head Start program for disadvantaged preschoolers.
“Forty-nine percent of all workers and 77 percent of those in the bottom fifth of the income ladder don’t have paid sick leave,” the paper on child development says. “So, for many low-income families, a sick child who needs to stay home can mean lost wages, even a lost job.”
The national policy the researchers have in mind would guarantee paid sick leave for all employees working at least 20 hours a week. The proposal also would include at least two months of paid parental leave over a 12-month period, reimbursing parents a minimum of 55 percent of their wages. The reimbursements would come from state funds financed by employee contributions.
A version of this article appeared in the July 30, 2008 edition of Education Week