The lack of paid sick leave is putting a strain on the health of rural Americans

People living in rural areas are less likely to have paid sick leave — or paid family and sick leave — than people living in or near cities.

According to a report by think tank New America, none of the more than 30 states with at least 20% of the population living in rural areas have a paid family and medical leave law. And only two — Vermont and New Mexico — have laws requiring paid sick leave.

If you live in a rural area, you may be an hour or two (or more) away from your nearest hospital or doctor.

“Rural communities are much, much further removed from hospital-based health services like midwifery, NICU care, cancer screening and treatment,” said Vicki Shabo, author of the New America report.

This means that people in rural areas often have to take more time off work to seek care. “Yet people in rural jobs typically don’t have access to paid sick leave or paid time off to use for serious family and medical needs,” she said.

According to Shabo, there are several reasons for this.

“We know that in rural communities, the types of jobs that are there — things like retail, services, manufacturing and farming — are jobs that don’t typically offer paid vacation pay.”

And she said more rural states are less likely to have laws mandating paid sick leave or family and medical leave.

This has real consequences for people’s health, said Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“Nobody drives four hours to see a doctor about something they think might go away,” she said.

Especially if it means losing a day’s wages or more. And so, Appelbaum said, “many of these people are just in much worse health than people who live in urban areas where access to health care is much easier.”

For people who fall ill and need to take time off – or who have to care for a child or a sick family member – there are real economic consequences too.

“The impact, in the most drastic example, is that they have to leave the workforce or that health problems affect their ability to work and advance in their careers,” said Jason Resendez of the National Alliance for Caregiving.

More than 50 million people in the country are caring for a family member, he said, and that doesn’t include parents who stay home with their children. Many nurses also work.

“Rural caregivers tend to work an average of 34 hours per week while providing care, and they are more likely to report negative financial impacts from the care,” z said.

Paid sick leave and family and medical leave, he adds, would help alleviate some of those challenges.

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