Respect Equality

US workers lost $28B in wages during pandemic: report

“Missed wages from unpaid leave have affected populations already at greater risk of severe COVID infection and of economic and material hardship, compounding existing economic, racial, and gender disparities.”
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Story at a glance


  • The report found that work absences due to illness, child care or other family matters increased by 50 percent when compared to the previous two years. 

  • Most absences were due to a worker’s personal illness. 

  • Women were 40 percent more likely to miss work without pay, while they were also among several groups — including self-employed, Black and Hispanic workers — who experienced the biggest increase in missed days. 

U.S. workers without paid sick leave during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic lost an estimated $28 billion in wages, according to a new report.  

The report, released by the Urban Institute with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on Wednesday, found that work absences due to illness, child care or other family matters increased by 50 percent when compared to the previous two years. 

Most absences were due to a worker’s personal illness. 

Women were 40 percent more likely to miss work without pay, while they were also among several groups — including self-employed, Black and Hispanic workers — who experienced the biggest increase in missed days.  

“The pandemic caused unpaid work absences across the entire workforce, but data on gender and race highlight the greater toll on women and minority populations,” Mona Shah, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a media release. 

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The report noted that nearly two-thirds of Hispanic workers and 57 percent of Black workers were not paid for days they were absent due to child care needs, personal illness, or other family obligations. 

Employee absences were especially high depending on socio-economic status, according to the report. Workers from households earning less than $25,000 per year were three times more likely to miss work without pay compared to those from households making more than $100,000 annually. 

“Missed wages from unpaid leave have affected populations already at greater risk of severe COVID infection and of economic and material hardship, compounding existing economic, racial, and gender disparities,” Chantel Boyens, principal policy associate at the Urban Institute, added in the release. 

“Workplace safety standards and public health policies combined with comprehensive paid leave policies that cover all workers, could help reduce the spread of COVID while protecting workers and families from missed wages due to medical and caregiving needs,” Boyens said.