Which California workers take paid leave? Many noncitizens forgo the benefit, study shows

A woman hugs a young her child in a park.
Stephanie Zapata and son Kruz hug during a picnic at the Monrovia Public Library in 2020.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Aug. 24.

Full-time workers in the Golden State are guaranteed at least three days of paid sick leave each year, regardless of their citizenship status. There’s an effort underway to boost that number to seven days, with supporters citing the importance of promoting public health and better work-life balance for Californians.

But a recent study examined how many citizen and noncitizen workers in the state with access to different types of paid leave actually take it, highlighting how often Latino and Asian workers without citizenship status are forgoing the public health benefit.

Researchers analyzed a representative sample of California adults, using 12,485 responses to the 2021 California Health Interview Survey. The study from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health showed that nearly 17% of employed Californians said they didn’t take paid leave that they needed. That included sick days, along with paid parental leave and paid family leave, which can be used to care for sick family members.


The authors noted “citizenship gradients … where non-citizens were the most likely to report unmet paid leave and U.S.-born citizens were the least likely.”

Among workers who did not take paid leave, nearly 32% were noncitizen Latinos and 24.7% were noncitizen Asians, compared with 11% of U.S.-born white workers, researchers wrote.

The most common reasons noncitizen Latino workers gave for not taking paid leave: not knowing about the benefit, and fearing they’d lose their job if they asked to take it. For noncitizen Asian workers, the most common reasons were not knowing about paid leave and not being able to afford taking leave.

Other reasons given by respondents included not being eligible for paid leave, fearing negative effects on job advancement, and a complicated process for applying for the benefit.

One possible factor behind disparities among who benefits from paid leave, according to study co-author Alein Haro-Ramos:

“In this country, racism is abundant… racialized immigrants — Latinos and Asian immigrants — may experience more hardships in terms of finding a job or the quality of the job compared to an individual who is white.”


Haro-Ramos is a postdoctoral fellow at UC Irvine and a former doctoral student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, where she led the study. She told me that California, where more than a quarter of residents emigrated from other countries, is “the perfect state” to study paid leave and “the intersecting disparities across race, ethnicity, and citizenship status.”

She’s especially interested in looking at conditions for undocumented workers, who are “more likely to be employed in precarious conditions and ... in the flexible job market, where employer abuse is highly prevalent and benefits are nonexistent.”

For Haro-Ramos, the pandemic “really highlights the importance of paid leave.”

“This was the first time that the federal government actually provided paid leave for workers when they were sick with COVID,” she said, noting how officials viewed it as vital to minimizing the spread of the virus and providing affected workers a safety net.

“Work is the critical social determinant of health that we tend to forget about,” she added. “It’s so important because our jobs and the quality of the work ... really shapes our income, financial stability, where we live, where we can afford to live [and] conditions in our workplace.”

The study broke down results for white, Latino and Asian respondents, categorized into U.S.-born, naturalized and noncitizen groups. The results don’t drill down into various types of noncitizen workers, so people with visas, green cards, those who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and people without documentation are included together in each ethnic group. Researchers did not examine Black Californians or residents of Native American or Alaskan, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander descent, citing a small sample size in terms of citizenship status.

Haro-Ramos said further research would help “disentangle within these broader categories to look at racialized experiences of these workers and inequalities among immigrant populations.”


As for addressing those inequalities, she told me she’s developing a policy brief to share with California lawmakers, hoping they will do more to bolster the work of community coalitions that advocate for immigrant workers and other marginalized groups.

“It’s important to look at not just what’s in the books,” she said, “but also how they’re being implemented or enforced.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Is this the year California leaders vote to tax guns and ammunition? The latest attempt — one of several over the last decade — would levy an 11% state excise tax on sales by dealers, manufacturers and vendors and use that revenue to fund violence prevention programs. The Sacramento Bee


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Southern California’s “water doctor” has a prescription for the future of water in the region. Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, outlined an ambitious slate of projects he said are vital to adapt to climate change. Los Angeles Times

The Pacific waters off Monterey Bay are home to the world’s largest deep-sea octopus garden. In a detailed study, researchers found at least 20,000 female octopuses gathering to tend to their eggs nearly two miles below the ocean surface. Ringo Starr must be stoked. San Francisco Chronicle

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Technical difficulties? You might have noticed Wednesday’s edition of Essential California was a bit late. One of the services we use to deliver the newsletter to you each morning crashed, which caused that delay. Hopefully you received it in the afternoon like I did!

Today’s California landmark is from Sharon Wells of Los Angeles: the Hollywood Bowl.

The Hollwood Bowl with a mountain backdrop.
The Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 19 before the “Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks.”
(Sharon Wells)

Sharon writes:

This iconic venue is one of the most special places in L.A for me. It doesn’t matter who’s performing or where I sit — any night at the Bowl is a great night.


What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

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