Governor Kristi Noem brags a lot about keeping South Dakota “open for business” when coronavirus hit and claims credit for brilliant (but exaggerated) economic results that are due mostly to Uncle Sam’s support.
The Governor makes her inflated economic claims with no accounting of the human cost, the lives she chose to sacrifice to her god of business freedom. That human cost would have been worse if the federal government hadn’t provided paid sick leave for the workers Noem chose to endanger:
Some research suggests that paid sick leave helped “flatten the curve” early in the pandemic. A study published in the journal Health Affairs, for example, found that in states that didn’t have paid leave laws but workers gained paid sick leave through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there were an average of about 400 fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases a day in each state between March and May 2020, compared with what the numbers would have been without the emergency measure. The measure expired at the end of 2020.
A Canadian study published earlier this year that looked at the effect of paid sick leave on COVID-19 cases in Ontario reported similar results.
“One clear reason we’re seeing so much momentum and increased success at the state and local level, is the body of research is becoming clearer and clearer that paid sick time is essential for public health,” said Jared Make, vice president at A Better Balance, a national nonprofit that advocates for workers. “Paid sick leave is not only critical for the financial security for individuals, but also for businesses, especially in an age of pandemics when illnesses hurt productivity” [Michael Ollove, “Pandemic Prompts More States to Mandate Paid Sick Leave,” Governing, 2022.09.20].
Paying workers who stay home sick can tamp down the spread of disease. It can also pay off for employers:
The lack of paid leave may also be hurting the margins of businesses. In California, the Department of Labor found that 90 percent of employers, small and large, reported state paid leave provisions had either a positive or neutral effect on “productivity, profit, morale, and costs.” New York experienced similar benefits after the state established a paid family leave policy in 2018, with employers feeling better able to handle extended employee absences. These findings are relevant in the context of COVID-19: Sick employees remaining at work can cause larger outbreaks and disruptions to overall operations [Julia R. Raifman, Will Raderman, Alexandra Skinner, and Rita Hamad, “Paid Leave Policies Can Help Keep Businesses Open and Food on Workers’ Tables,” Health Affairs, 2021.10.25].
New Mexico just enacted a paid sick leave law in July, requiring private employers to give workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. New Mexico is the 17th state to require paid sick leave; the United States is the only wealthy nation not to require paid sick leave.
South Dakota’s state employees do get paid sick leave. Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) proposed 2022 Senate Bill 145 to require meatpackers to offer paid sick leave during the pandemic; the Noem Administration testified against that bill and saw to its swift death in committee.
South Dakota is all business, but it’s not willing to protect the lives of the workers who make that business possible.