Democrats Push For Paid Sick Leave As More Americans Call Off Work

The latest numbers from the Labor Department show Americans are calling into work sick nearly twice as much as they did throughout last year.

Democrats Push For Paid Sick Leave As More Americans Call Off Work
J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Across the country, mask mandates are going away. Every state, except Hawaii, has either dropped its mandate or announced plans to do so in the future.

On Jan. 20, the U.S. was averaging 735,652 new COVID-19 cases a day. On Feb. 20, the country was down to 102,385 daily cases. While those numbers have gone down, another number has gone up.

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In January, more Americans called in sick than usual. In fact, the latest numbers from the Department of Labor show the statistics to be around twice as much as they did throughout last year. The statistics are a reminder that the pandemic is not over.

Some in Congress fear that as the pandemic continues, more people will go to work even if they test positive, especially if they don't have sick leave.

Ahead of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, a group of Democrats is pushing a policy proposal to mandate sick leave to be included in the speech and voted on sometime this year.

Earlier in the pandemic, Congress enacted paid sick leave for those who contracted the virus, but that program has expired.

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One proposal would give every American worker at least two weeks of sick leave if they catch COVID-19. Around 33.6 million American workers do not have paid sick leave, according to the latest figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. is one of only 11 countries in the world without mandatory leave for health problems.

"The 1918 pandemic came in waves just like ours does," said John M. Barry, a distinguished scholar at Tulane University. He isn’t an expert on paid time off, but he is an expert on how pandemics end and also wrote "The Great Influenza" about the pandemic of 1918.

A hundred years ago, he says, even after all the public health restrictions were lifted, people still got sick and couldn’t go to work. In fact, cities like Detroit, Kansas City and Milwaukee saw some of their worst outbreaks after people stopped wearing masks.

As a result, the government, as well as employers, should still be prepared for employees to call in sick. However, whether paid sick leave can pass Congress is still very much unclear.

Democrats in Congress have struggled in recent months to pass similar initiatives.