Paid leave is essential for health, but citizenship status, race, and ethnicity affect who can take it

Paid leave is essential for public health. It provides an economic safety net for workers, promotes family well-being through parental leave, and prevents people from working while sick.

But among those workers who earn paid leave, who actually manages to take it?

Previous research has documented the racial and ethnic disparities among people who needed, but were not able to take, paid leave. But a new study by UC Berkeley School of Public Health researchers is amongst the first to show that Asian and Latinx Californian workers who are not U.S. citizens have a higher likelihood of forgoing paid leave than their White, U.S.-born counterparts. They also found that, within Asian and Latinx groups, there was a citizenship gradient in unmet needed paid leave, with noncitizens reporting the highest unmet need.

The cross-sectional study, led by Alein Y. Haro-Ramos, a doctoral student at Berkeley Public Health, analyzed 12,485 records from the 2021 California Health Interview Survey.

The researchers found that while 16.7% of employed Californians reported not using their paid leave when they needed it, the percentage of Latinx non-citizens who didn’t use their paid leave was nearly double, at 31.8%.

Writing in the July 11, 2013 issue of Public Health, Haro-Ramos and co-author Adrian Bacong of Stanford University Medical School, wrote that both Latinx and Asian non-citizens had a higher probability of unmet paid leave compared to their U.S.-born and naturalized counterparts.

“Notably, while California has established state-based paid sick and family leave, disparities exist in who can use these benefits,” the authors wrote, “highlighting the need for better implementation and enforcement efforts to ensure equitable access to paid leave.”

The authors recommend that California agencies make sure workers know they are eligible for leave, facilitate the application process, and enforce equitable access for paid leave for all workers.

Haro-Ramos is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholars. The study sponsor had no role in any study component or the decision to submit the report for publication.

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