Expanding access to earned sick leave to support caregiving

Female Neighbor Giving Senior Woman A Lift In Car. iStock/Highwaystarz-Photography
Editor's note:

This is a chapter from The 51%: Driving growth through women’s economic participation, edited by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Ryan Nunn.


The rapid growth of the older population in the United States will dramatically increase the need for elder care, most of which will be provided at home by family members. Supporting an older person sometimes comes at the cost of leaving the labor force, particularly for caregivers in jobs with an inflexible work schedule. This paper proposes a federal earned sick leave mandate guaranteeing one hour of flexible, multi-purpose sick leave for every 30 hours worked. By helping workers periodically adjust their work schedules to accommodate intermittent and urgent caregiving activities, paid sick leave would increase both home caregiving and employment, as fewer workers would be forced to choose between these activities. This policy would benefit women and low-income workers in particular, as they are more likely to have inflexible working conditions and can less afford to stop working in order to provide care.


Nicole Maestas received funding for this work from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the U.S. Social Security Administration, and the National Institute on Aging. With the exception of the aforementioned, the author did not receive financial support from any firm or person for this paper or from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this paper. With the exception of the aforementioned, the author is not currently an officer, director, or board member of any organization with an interest in this paper.