Low-wage workers in service industries without proper medical benefits and sick leave will risk getting sick or spreading the virus
For over 30 years, Joyce Barnes has worked as a home healthcare aide in Richmond, Virginia without any paid sick days. She makes $8.25 an hour and often works through illnesses because she can’t afford to lose income from taking the time off.
“I can’t afford to miss pay so I have gone to work before several times sick as a dog, masked up so my patients wouldn’t catch what I have,” Barnes said. “Everyday I pray and I ask God to give me strength that I won’t get sick so I can keep on making it and that’s the way we have to do it.”
Last July, Barnes contracted an illness from one of her patients that caused her a stay in a hospital for over a week. She relied on family members to help with bills to make up for the income she lost from missing work, and still has to make regular monthly payments toward the thousands of dollars of medical debt she accrued, despite having health insurance.
“I have a lot of medical debt I have to pay. They had to do a test on my stomach when I was sick. That one test cost me $3,000 and I’m still paying it because I can’t afford to pay everything back,” Barnes added.
As the coronavirus outbreak (Covid-19) has begun to spread through the United States, millions of low-wage workers in service industries are left vulnerable due to lack of proper medical benefits and paid sick leave. There are growing concerns that these workers will be extra vulnerable to the disease themselves, or, due to lack of health insurance and poverty, help its spread by continuing to work while ill.
Over 32 million workers in the US have no paid sick days off, and low-wage workers are least likely to have paid sick time. These workers are also significantly less likely to have access to healthcare and medical benefits, making them potentially especially vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak as it spreads.
According to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 69% of low-wage workers, those in the tenth lowest percentile of median wage earners in the US civilian workforce, do not receive paid sick leave benefits.