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A Lack of Paid Sick Leave in the U.S. Is a Public Health Concern

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The cashier is counting out your change, but right before she hands you 83 cents and sends you on your merry way, she lets out a big sneeze. “Gross,” you think. “Why didn’t she just stay at home?” You gingerly take your coins, and douse yourself in hand sanitizer the second you get to the car. There’s no way you can afford to get sick this week.


For many people, riding out a cold on the couch with a mug of steaming tea simply isn’t an option – especially if you have children and a job that doesn’t let you take time off. For the millions of workers without access to paid sick leave, they simply can’t afford to stay at home – even if it means putting their coworkers and customers at risk.

In the United States – the only industrialized country that does not require employers to provide paid sick leave – 40 percent of workers in the private sector must go to work even if they are sick, or go without pay if they stay at home. Without paid time off, these workers are not only suffering through an illness while at work, they’re creating a public health problem.

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In 2009, the year of the swine flu pandemic, public health experts estimate that seven million individuals contracted the H1N1 virus from contagious employees who went to work, resulting in 1,500 more deaths than would have otherwise occurred. Many of these illnesses and deaths might have been prevented if more employees had access to paid sick leave, giving them the option to stay at home and recuperate without fear of financial repercussions.

Because paid sick leave in the United States is typically viewed as a perk, not as a basic part of employment compensation, it’s not surprising that fewer low wage employees have access to paid sick leave. Only 29 percent in the bottom fourth of workers receive paid sick leave. Hispanic and American Indian workers are also less likely to have paid sick days than other workers. 

But paid sick leave is more than a perk. It’s a way to help the general public from getting sick, and unfortunately, many low-wage positions are at a greater risk of spreading diseases. Less than one-fifth of workers in the food service industry have paid sick leave, and nearly two-thirds of restaurant employees admit to having prepared or served food while under the weather. It’s enough to make you think twice about eating out until spring comes again.

For parents, a lack of paid sick leave presents an additional problem. While some workers may be able to afford taking a few unpaid days off in order to nurse a cold, workers with children must choose between taking care of themselves, or budgeting that time for when their child is truly ill. Parents who can’t afford to do both are often stuck going to work while they’re sick, potentially spreading contagious diseases to coworkers and the public.

Children of employees without paid sick time suffer as well – if their parent can’t even afford to take unpaid time off to care for them, they can be sent to school while ill.

If employers were required to provide employees with paid sick time, mothers would stand to benefit the most. Forty percent of mothers in a National Health Interview Survey said they were solely responsible for staying home from work when a child is sick, compared to only three percent of fathers.

With women earning less than men, a family might be foregoing less money when a mother stays home. Unfortunately, employers also justify paying women less because they are more likely to take time off to take care of kids, trapping women in a can’t win situation. Paid sick leave for all employees could help even the playing field, and help all parents take care of their family’s physical health and financial needs.

Critics of paid sick leave point to the financial cost for businesses, worrying that it would cause undue strain. But while the costs of the programs are moderate, the benefits are pronounced. An analysis of Connecticut’s paid sick leave law showed an average weekly cost per worker of $6.87. Employers, meanwhile, see an increase in productivity and reduced turnover by providing compensated time off.

Going to work with the sniffles might not seem like a big deal, especially if you need the money more than you need a day to rest. But when millions of workers do the same, disease spreads more rapidly. Cities that require employers to provide paid sick leave for their workers, like Washington D.C., Seattle, and New York, have fewer cases of the flu. Not only do the workers benefit from paid leave, anyone who would have come into contact with them benefits as well.

More and more employers, states, and cities are recognizing the importance of paid sick leave to their employees, their employees’ families, and to the public as a whole. For parents, paid sick leave can offer not only improved financial stability, but also better health for the entire family.

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

This article is sponsored by Nordstrom. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Ayesha Curry has a beautiful family. Her girls, 6-year-old Riley and 3-year-old Ryan, are so smart and adorable and youngest, 10-month-old Canon, is a beautiful, growing baby boy.

He's so cute it practically hurts to look at his sweet little face. So Curry was understandably shocked when an Instagram commenter suggested that Canon (again, he is 10 months old) should go on a diet.

Seriously.

The whole thing started when Curry posted a photo taken after her husband, NBA star Steph Curry, won the Western Conference finals with the Golden State Warriors. The group shot shows Curry holding Canon surrounded by friends and family. The problematic comments began when someone asked the mom of three if she was pregnant again.

That question is not cool. It's not okay to comment on a woman's body like that, even if she is in the public eye. Curry recently told Working Mother that she's had times since becoming a mom when she's been depressed about her body, and struggled with her reflection as she's gone from being an NBA player's wife to a successful woman who is landing magazine covers for her own work.

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"I'm not thin; I'm 170 pounds on a good day. It's been a journey for me, and that's why I want my girls to understand who they are—and to love it."

Despite this, Curry took the pregnancy speculation in stride, replying with "LOL" and stating she is absolutely not pregnant.

"My 30-lb. son is just breaking my back in every photo," she wrote.

That's when the comments about Canon came.

"30 at 10 months?? Sheesh," wrote one user.

"30?!?!? He's bigger than my 19-month-old nephew," another commented.

"Maybe portion control his food a little bit," replied another Instagram user in a comment that got Curry's attention.

While she had responded to the inappropriate speculation about her own body with grace, she was not about to take baby body shaming and unsolicited parenting advice from an internet stranger.

"Excuse you? No. Just no," she wrote.

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No is right. It is never okay to presume a woman is pregnant and it is never okay to comment on a baby's weight. Plus, Canon is adorable just the way he is!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, every baby grows at their own rate, but usually by their first birthday, the average child triples their birth weight. What's important isn't measuring your child against any chart, but that they continue to grow at the same pace they set in the first eight months of their life, the AAP notes.

Many moms can relate to Curry's situation here. People (sometimes well-meaning) seem to think it's okay to comment on baby's weight, but it absolutely isn't. Every baby is different and growing at their own speed, and no one knows what is best for their baby like their mom and dad do so strangers on the internet or even relatives at a family dinner need to keep those comments to themselves.

No one should be judging Canon's weight or Curry's parenting. Canon is 30 pounds of cuteness and his mother knows exactly how and what to feed him.

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When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I attended a party where I ate the better portion of a wheel of Brie cheese. If you've ever had a baby, are thinking of having a baby, or know someone who's had a baby, then you might know that soft cheeses are strictly forbidden when you're expecting—according to most Western doctors, at least. (It's a pasteurization thing. Raw milk ups your chance of ingesting harmful bacteria.)

But what can I tell you? The notion that cheese can be dangerous just seemed ridiculous to me, especially given that when my mom was pregnant with me, they expected I'd be born with a brandy in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

I ate the Brie.

An hour or so later, though, when my stomach started to hurt, I became hysterical: Oh, no. Something is wrong with my baby! What have I done?

I called my doctor, a lovely, sane man who would go on to deliver all four of my children. He listened and then very patiently explained to me that my baby and I were fine. What I had, he told me, was a case of mother's guilt.

"Let me tell you," he said, "it starts the minute you conceive that baby and it will not stop until the day you die."

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Truer words have never been spoken.

As aden + anais, our then-fledgling baby-goods company, continued to grow by leaps and bounds, so too did the size of my family. And though I'd always been a working mom, even before I started my company, the struggle to manage work and family life did not get any easier.

Once while I was out of town on business, my husband decided to take the girls out for ice cream. He stepped up to the counter, flanked by four little girls, giggling and chattering and ogling the display case. The cashier looked down at them, looked back at my husband, and in a small voice asked, "Do they have a mother?"

My husband took it in stride: "Of course, mate. She's just traveling for business."

But when he recounted the story to me later, instead of scoffing at this person's ridiculous question, it was like someone reached into my chest and ripped out my still-beating heart.

Once again, I wasn't there. Once again, I had been away from my girls because of the business. It should go without saying the obvious and insidious double-standard at work here: I have never once been asked, on the days when I'm out and about alone with the girls if they have a father.

Women share a common anguish over juggling their responsibilities. No amount of starry-eyed optimism over the things that women can accomplish in the business world will soothe the guilt of the mom who feels she should be in two places at once: at home, with her children, and at work, doing what earns her a paycheck and what she (hopefully) finds meaningful.

Each of these—children and work—can feel like a calling, we can feel devoted to both. But which one takes precedence moment to moment? What is the cost to our children when we give our career priority in a given moment? These are questions all parents grapple with on a daily basis, even if unconsciously.

Mommy guilt shows up in different ways for different women. It can show up at the grocery store when our kid starts screaming in aisle seven and we think we should have it all under control.

It shows up when we work nights or weekends to finish that project—the one we worked so hard to land—which takes precious time away from them.

It shows up when we don't know how to make the changes they need or we lack the emotional energy to do so.

It's there when the "perfect birthday party" doesn't go as planned and ends in tears and tantrums.

It shows up when we don't have the space to be emotionally available to them, because, well, stuff happens.

For many of us, it starts at pregnancy with pressure to give birth vaginally like some heroic warrior goddess, surrounded by candles and people chanting.

It starts with the phrase "breast is best," which brings with it a heavy load of guilt for those who physically can't produce milk (I couldn't, despite trying for months), or have to return to a workplace with no lactation rooms, or simply prefer not to breastfeed.

It's there when we crave time to ourselves but feel as though we should be giving time to our families because to do otherwise is considered selfish.

Instead of seeing the conundrum for what it is—a Chinese finger trap which keeps us struggling instead of accepting our reality—we strive to do it all. We think we can be a superhero mom and superhero career woman all the time, every day. Not surprisingly, this leads to an incredible amount of burnout.

What I struggled with most, especially trying to juggle a full-time job, growing a side business, and raising an expanding family, is the societal belief that working moms are somehow failing because we choose work, rather than to be with our kids day in and day out.

Women are up against commonly held beliefs that we don't want to work, that we value our careers less than men do, and that huge swaths of us will ultimately leave our jobs to care for our homes and children. (I would guess that every mother reading this was asked at least once during her pregnancy whether she would be returning to work after she gave birth.) The fact that we've had children is often given as the reason that so few women have snagged boardroom or C-suite spots.

The judgment about women's career choices probably won't stop anytime soon. Most of us would say our choice to work is not, in fact, a choice. Most of us either need to work to support ourselves and our families, or we need to work to feel fulfilled.

Was it a choice to work, or to start my business? Not so much. Working was not only financially important to my family, but it was important to me. When I moved from Australia to New York and initially couldn't work for lack of an appropriate visa, I learned that I could not be idle for long without suffering the consequences of lethargy, depression and a total lack of interest in life.

My career is fulfilling, and I'm convinced I would be a terrible mother if I were a full-time stay-at-home mom. Even though I once had to use my whole salary to pay for quality childcare, investing in my career has always been worth it.

Excerpted from What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds by Raegan Moya-Jones with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Raegan Moya-Jones, 2019.

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In recent months there has been a growing awareness about the tragedy of maternal health care in America, specifically how much more dangerous it is for black women to become mothers. Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely than white women to die during or right after pregnancy than white mothers and racism and the implicit bias of health care providers allows this to happen.

This week, Sen. Kamala Harris reintroduced the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act to address this issue."The health status and the well-being of Black mothers should concern everyone," she wrote on Twitter. "I re-introduced my Maternal CARE Act to ensure women are listened to in our health care system."

Implicit bias is basically the ways in which we stereotype people, even unconsciously, and how these stereotypes impact our actions. When it comes to maternal health care, the implicit bias of providers can mean black mothers' concerns go unheard, even when they're paying for the best medical care money can buy.

This is happening to moms at all income levels and is something that Serena Williams has been very open about, and even Beyonce felt the effects of.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "implicit bias may affect the way obstetrician–gynecologists counsel patients about treatment options such as contraception, vaginal birth after cesarean delivery, and the management of fibroids."

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Harris's Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act would create grants to ensure black mothers have access to maternal care and that healthcare providers are trained to avoid the kind of bias that results in black moms losing their lives, and babies losing their mothers.

Harris has seen this in her own state, where black women make up 5% of the pregnant population, but 21% of the pregnancy-related deaths. California's Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act is seeking to change that on the state level, and Harris is hoping to do the same on a national level by passing her federal act (and winning the Democratic primary).

Her future in the Presidential race remains to be seen, but with Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act she's trying to ensure that black mothers are seen and no longer overlooked in America's healthcare system.

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We've said it here at Motherly many times: The majority of moms just don't feel like society supports them. Our 2019 State of Motherhood survey found a whopping 85% of mothers feel this way, up from 74% last year.

We've wondered if anyone is listening, but the race for the Democratic primary proves many politicians are.

This week Kirsten Gillibrand, a mom of two herself, announced her new economic policy platform known as the Family Bill of Rights.

In a Medium post published Wednesday, Gillibrand explained that she believes Americans have the right to a safe and healthy pregnancy, the right to give birth or adopt a child, the right to personally care for those children in their infancy and access health care for them, the right to a safe and affordable nursery, and the right to affordable child care and early education before kindergarten.

She's proposing a lot here. Like Senator Elizabeth Warren before her, Gillibrand points out that the "U.S. has the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the industrialized world, and black women are 3–4 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than white women."

Like Warren, she plans to make America a safer place to give birth. She also plans to "require insurance companies to cover treatments like IVF" to make sure that reproductive medicine isn't out of reach for families. She wants to make sure all families, regardless of sexual orientation, race or income level can welcome a child.

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That's why one of her promises is to ensure taxpayer-funded adoption agencies can't discriminate against potential parents, and why she plans to "provide a tax credit to ensure that a family's ability to adopt and provide a stable home for a child isn't dependent on their wealth."

That tax credit would help parents who are adopting older children, and Gillibrand's plan for safe and affordable nurseries would help parents who are coming home with newborns. She plans to provide baby boxes that contain a small mattress and can be used as a safe sleep surface but will also be packed with "diapers, swaddle blankets, and onesies."

And of course, like so many politicians in America right now, she's got a plan for paid family leave, but she's also tackling children's health care in the same breath. "It's past time we create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program, so that everyone can take the time they need to be with their loved ones without having to worry about how they'll pay the bills. And I would ensure that every child has the right to health care, by making the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) universal," she explains.

From there, Gillibrand is committing to universal pre-K and an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care tax credit to help families with the cost of childcare.

With more than 20 competitors running against her and a poll numbers suggesting she's nowhere near the lead, many may not take Gillibrand's announcement seriously. There are a lot of promises in her Family Bill of Rights, but that fact alone reminds us just how much American families are missing right now.

Time will tell how far Gillibrand will get on this platform, but we hope other politicians (in both parties) are listening. Because she was listening to us. And she's got our attention.

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