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According to research from Harvard’s School of Public Health, welfare can be good for families–if only because it allows moms to take care of their sick children.

Researcher Dr. S. Jody Heymann found that only 64 percent of those recently leaving welfare had jobs that included paid sick leave, compared to 80 percent of all working women. Women recently off welfare were also much less likely to have vacation leave, or work at jobs that allowed flexible hours. But they were twice as likely as other working women to have a kid with asthma, or some other chronic health problem like diabetes or epilepsy.

In one sense, it’s no news at all: Women who leave welfare usually get jobs that don’t include cushy benefits. But Heymann pointed out that welfare is an important refuge for women with sick children, because it allows them to stay home and care for their kids.

Without welfare benefits, she said, “parents have to make an untenable choice between their children’s health and work.” Heymann said that choosing work can sometimes be disastrous: children with asthma, for example, may end up in the hospital. But parents that stay home may not be able to afford the lost wages, or may lose the job altogether.

Her solution? “Allowing people on welfare to get good job training,” so that they could have a shot at better jobs with more benefits. The other: state legislation that would help all families get paid family leave from work.

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