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On Tuesday, President Biden officially declared March 14 National Equal Pay Day. Just a day earlier, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill granting paid leave to workers across the state for any reason.

Starting Jan. 1, 2024, employers of any size in the state must offer workers paid time off for hours worked. Employees do not need to explain the reason for the requested time off as long as they follow state guidelines to provide reasonable notice.

“Too many people can’t afford to miss even a day’s pay…together we continue to build a state that truly serves as a beacon for families, and businesses, and good paying jobs,” Gov. Pritzker said on Monday.

While the new law doesn’t directly address the gender pay gap, it disproportionately benefits women and single mothers, who may require time off for reasons outside of sickness or a death in the family.

Paid leave impacts gender pay gap

The nation’s recognition of Women’s History Month is shining a light on gaps in pay that women continue to face in the workplace. Despite making gains in employment and political representation, the gender pay gap has remained relatively stable for the last 20 years. 

In 2022, women earned an average of 82% of what men earned, according to Pew Research Center. Broken down by race, the numbers are even more stark. Black women earn just 64% of what non-Hispanic White men earn, and Hispanic women earn just 57%, according to data from the Center for American Progress.

“I call upon all Americans to recognize the full value of women’s skills and their significant contributions to the labor force, acknowledge the injustice of wage inequality, and join efforts to achieve equal pay,” Biden said Tuesday after signing an executive order declaring March 14, 2023 National Equal Pay Day.

“A step forward”

The new paid leave law allows employees to accrue an hour of paid time off for every 40 hours worked. They become eligible for the benefits after working for at least 90 days. Only Maine and Nevada have similar laws. 

Critics of the measure say it will cripple small businesses still reeling from the pandemic. National Federation of Independent Business Illinois state director Chris Davis said that business owners are best positioned to work with their employees one-on-one to meet their needs, the Associated Press reported.

The new law is “a one-size-fits-all solution to a more intricate problem,” Davis said.

Yet the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth stood up for the new law.

“Everyone deserves the ability to take time off,” she said in a statement. “Whether it’s to deal with the illness of a family member, or take a step back for your mental health, enshrining paid leave rights is a step forward for our state.”

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...