The importance of paid sick leave was underscored in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world grappled with the challenges of a global health crisis, the simple act of staying home when feeling unwell became a critical strategy in curbing the spread of the virus. Yet even though the pandemic shed light on the necessity of paid sick leave, the question remains which workers have and do not have access to this essential benefit when they need it to take care of themselves or a family member. 

IWPR’s recent fact sheet addresses this question by analyzing the changes in access to paid sick leave from 2012 to 2022. The findings paint a nuanced picture of the state of paid sick leave in the United States. While there have been notable improvements in access to paid sick leave over the past decade, significant gaps remain, particularly along the lines of income and employment status.

The good news is that, overall, access to paid sick leave has increased, rising from 61 percent of all workers in 2012 to 66 percent of all workers in 2022 for workers aged 18 and older. Female and male workers experienced similar increases, with rates rising from 62 percent to 66 percent for women and from 60 percent to 67 percent for men. 

Another significant improvement in access to paid sick leave was observed among Hispanic and Latino/Latina workers. The rate of access to paid leave rose from 51 percent in 2012 to 59 percent in 2022 for Latina women, while Latino men experienced an increase from 45 percent to 61 percent. Asian, Black, and White workers, both women and men, all saw gains in access to paid leave, albeit smaller ones than for Hispanic workers (Table 1).

Table 1. Access to Paid Sick Leave Increased for Women and Men in All Racial and Ethnic Groups from 2012 to 2022

Source: IWPR analysis of the 2022 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). 

Notes: Access rates were calculated for individuals aged 18 years and older who responded yes or no to the following question: Regarding your job or business, is paid sick leave available if you need it/When you last worked, was paid sick leave available to you if you needed it? “Other race” category includes American Indian or Alaska natives and individuals reporting multiple racial identities. None of these populations were individually large enough for separate analysis; all were kept in the interest of inclusion.

However, beneath these positive trends lies a sobering reality: access to paid sick leave remains deeply unequal, particularly along socioeconomic lines. Workers with incomes below the poverty threshold are far less likely to have access to paid sick leave compared to those with higher incomes. Only 39 percent of those below the poverty threshold had access to paid sick leave, in stark contrast to 77 percent of those with incomes four times or more above the poverty threshold.

Furthermore, while there has been progress in expanding access to paid sick leave among part-time workers, a significant portion still lacks this crucial benefit. In 2022, only 24 percent of people working between 10 and 19 hours had access to paid sick leave—up from 11 percent in 2012, but still leaving the majority in this group without this protection. A similar situation exists among those working between 20 and 34 hours: while access to paid sick leave increased from 24 percent to 39 percent for this group, about two-thirds (61 percent) still lack access to paid sick leave.

These findings show the progress made in expanding access to paid sick leave but also underscore the urgent need for comprehensive federal action to address the disparities in access. Federal policy interventions are crucial to ensure that all American workers—regardless of income, race and ethnicity, or employment status—have access to this fundamental benefit. Bridging the gap in paid leave policies can create a more equitable system that prioritizes the health and well-being of all workers.

For more information, read the full fact sheet and the relevant policy brief.


This research was supported by the Urban Institute’s Policies for Action (P4A), a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). P4A research focuses on identifying policies, laws, and other public and private sector levers that can support RWJF’s vision of building a Culture of Health and helping achieve health and racial equity.

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