Four in 10 Chicago Parents Don’t Have Paid Leave to Care for Sick Kids

March 25, 2019
  • One in six parents said they needed to take time off work in the previous week, but did not – mainly because they could not afford the loss of income.
  • Working parents with children in worse health were less likely to have paid leave (45 percent) than parents with healthier children (64 percent).

Paid leave allows working parents to care for sick children and take them to the doctor when needed. But in Chicago, four in 10 working parents say that they do not have paid leave, according to results of a new survey released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). One in six parents said that just in the previous week they needed to take time off work but did not. Loss of income was the most common reason cited for not taking time off when needed, while the primary reason for needing time off was care for a sick family member. The survey also found that working parents with children with worse health were less likely than parents with healthier children to have paid leave.

“Our survey shows that many parents in Chicago do not have paid leave.This is especially concerning for parents whose children have complex health needs, like children we see often at Lurie Children’s,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Senior Vice President and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Lack of paid leave creates difficult decisions for parents at the time when their children need them most. It is also likely, without paid leave, that children continue to go to school while sick, instead of staying at home to recover.”

Previous research has shown that when parents have paid leave, their children are more likely to receive the flu vaccine, their annual medical checkup and timely medical care. These children are also less likely to be taken to the emergency room, compared to children whose parents did not have paid leave.

“We also know from other research that children from lower-income families are less likely to have working parents with paid leave,” says Dr. Davis. “That is concerning, because we also found that children in lower-income households were more likely to have worse health.”

The survey revealed that among children whose family income was at least 400 percent above the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), 92 percent had better health status, compared to 81 percent of children with family income 100-399 percent of FPL, and 76 percent of children with family income lower than 100 percent of the FPL.

In July 2017, Chicago and Cook County passed an ordinance that established the right to paid leave for employees in Cook County. There is also a process for submitting a complaint if an employer is not providing paid leave that is required by the ordinance.

“Working families shouldn’t have to choose between caring for their children and keeping their job. Chicago has passed essential protections for our workers and families, but we need to ensure that workers can access this right," says CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita, MD. "When parents and families are supported to make the best decisions for their families, we all do better."

Survey results are based on the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 3,310 adults, including 1,002 parents, December 2017 through June 2018. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas.

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs will be issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health. 

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 212,000 children from 49 states and 51 countries.