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August 19, 2016

Shared Challenges: Paid Time Off

Many immigrants and African-American Virginians have significant family caretaking responsibilities, but are less likely than others to have access to key options that would allow them to better balance work and family responsibilities.

Virginia families headed by immigrants or racial minorities are far more likely to include young children than households headed by U.S. born and non-Hispanic white Virginians. A primary reason is that immigrant Virginians are far more likely than other Virginians to be young or middle-aged adults, rather than being elderly, contributing to the high share of immigrant-headed households who have young children at home.

And they’re also far more likely to be multigenerational households. Immigrant Virginians and Virginians of color are more likely to live with children or in multigenerational households due to both demographics and community values. About 1 in 4 immigrant households, and almost 1 in 4 households headed by someone who identifies as African-American, Asian, or Hispanic, includes multiple generations of adults. That’s compared to less than 1 in 6 households headed by non-Hispanic white Virginians. When individuals and families are struggling to make ends meet, living with relatives may provide some relief, but also additional challenges, including financial obligations and time caring for elders who may no longer be independent.


We all need flexibility with our work, yet the ones who need it most often don’t receive it.

For working adults with young children or others in their household who require care, flexible schedules and paid time off are particularly critical. But Black and Latino workers are less likely than white workers to have flexible hours or days, even after controlling for age, education, and occupation. And immigrant workers are far less likely than other workers to have employers that provide paid sick days.

When combined with the very high cost of childcare, this creates high burdens on many families who already struggle to make ends meet. The typical cost of infant care in a Virginia day care center is $10,458 a year. That’s 14 percent of the typical Virginia family’s income, well above the 10 percent of family income that the Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable, and it’s a far higher share of the income of poor and near-poor families. It’s also almost as high as a year of tuition at some of Virginia’s public four-year colleges.

Many of the challenges that immigrant Virginians and Virginians of color face can be alleviated through policy changes. Expanding paid sick and family leave, and protecting workers through fair scheduling, are critical steps for both immigrant and African-American families. Other states are moving forward in a number of ways. Options for providing paid family and sick leave include a payroll-funded state insurance system similar to unemployment compensation or requiring large employers to provide paid sick and family leave to employees. Options for providing fair scheduling include incentivizing employers to provide flexibility where possible to workers and requiring reasonable advance notice of changes to shifts or hours.

Helping families with the cost of dependent care – whether for young children or older relatives – is also important for Virginia’s families of color and immigrant families. State policymakers can work to provide high-quality early education options such as the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) to all low- and moderate-income families. Doing so through VPI would likely require boosting state per-pupil support so that localities in all areas of the state can provide high-quality options. The state can also work to connect low-income working families with subsidized child care options through federal programs, and expand state support for similar programs. And for adults who need extra support, the state can make sure all eligible families are connected to appropriate home health care options, including respite care, and reconsider arbitrary limits on the hours that home health care workers spend with their patients.

Virginia’s policymakers have the opportunity to benefit Virginians of all ages through improving access to high quality child care and employment policies that provide much-needed flexibility to balance work and family responsibilities. Other states have taken these steps, and it’s time for Virginia to catch up.

This is the 7th in a series of blog posts based on The Commonwealth Institute’s recent report, We’re In This Together: African-American and Immigrant Communities Share Challenges, Policy Solutions. During July and August, we are highlighting analysis and policy ideas from each section of the report. For more information about this report and its findings, please contact Levi Goren at


Levi Goren

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