The average U.S. employee receives around seven to eight days of paid sick leave per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But during a pandemic, those seven or eight days might not be enough. Now, nonprofit The Urban Institute’s new research on unpaid sick leave during the pandemic finds that there was a spike in unpaid absences due to illness and child care needs as a result  of COVID-19, which led to a subsequent loss of as much as $28 billion in wages amongst those affected.

According to the report, which compared the first two years of the pandemic to the two years prior, there was a marked increase in sick leave due to COVID-19. The total unpaid absence rate went up 60% between the pre-pandemic and pandemic periods, with spikes in absences due to sickness, child care needs, and family obligation. Some 81% of all absences during COVID-19 were due to worker illness, but only 45% of these absences were paid. The number was even lower for child care absences, less than a quarter of which were compensated. 

The report also finds that taking a week of unpaid leave costs a worker $815 in wages on average.

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