By Vanessa Cardenas
The demographics of our labor force are rapidly changing. With a large number of jobs opening up due to workforce replacement and economic growth, Latinos play a big role in shaping the American workforce. As vice president of Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress, I see firsthand the challenges that growing communities of color face in the United States, such as access to paid leave.
Expanding access to paid leave is also a personal issue for me. Growing up, I watched my mom clean houses, and work as a nanny and in restaurants. She earned between $5 and $7 per hour and she did not have paid sick days. If my mother was sick, she would still go to work. And if I was sick, I would stay home alone. Taking an unpaid sick day meant not having enough to buy groceries or pay the rent on time. Virtually everyone gets sick sometimes, but not everyone is able to take the necessary time off from work to get better or care for a loved one that is sick. Overall, fewer than 6 in 10 workers have access to paid sick days through their job. For 57.3 million workers, getting the flu could mean losing a day’s pay or even their job.
The picture is even bleaker for Latino workers. Latinos are the least likely to have access to paid sick days (only 38.4 percent) or paid parental leave (only 25.1 percent) of any racial or ethnic group. Some opponents of paid leave legislation say that workers do not need leave that is specifically earmarked for illness or birth when they can take paid vacation instead. But the reality is that less than half of Latino workers even have access to paid vacation. For too many Latinos, balancing work and family responsibilities is nearly impossible.
As America’s diversity increases, and Latinos continue to play a larger and larger role in our economy and labor market, we must continue to expand opportunities for all Americans. This Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s celebrate our communities’ ever-increasing contributions to our nation’s economy, but let’s not forget that our basic needs are not being met. It is high time to bring our workplace policies into the 21st century and help all families succeed.>Vanessa Cárdenas is the Vice President of Progress 2050 at American Progress.