PORTLAND – Recently, political pundits on the right have tried to make the case that supporting paid sick days is on the political margins of what voters want and expect.

The story plays well during campaign season, but the pundits have it wrong. It’s time to check the facts.

Voters overwhelmingly support policies such as paid sick days to help stay productive and retain jobs. Astute candidates should as well.

During this economic downturn, families across Maine have lost hours, taken pay cuts and given up overtime. Thousands have lost jobs entirely.

Candidates who promote policies that help struggling families succeed in this economy will be winners on Election Day. In fact, on June 21, the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center released a poll revealing that nearly half of the respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports paid sick days.

That’s because working families know a lot more than the pundits do about the harm caused by lack of paid sick leave. Take a couple of the people who testified at this spring’s legislative hearing on the paid sick day bill.

A woman who said she was a single mom told lawmakers she sacrifices groceries, insurance payments or rent every time she gets sick. And a waitress said she came down with the flu but was forced to serve meals anyway, because she’d already seen two coworkers fired for missing work due to illness.

Families face severe consequences when they can’t adequately take care of themselves and their families through routine illness. It’s time for candidates to realize this and update our outdated workplace policies.

Fortunately, both state and national polls show that paid sick leave policies are broadly supported across the political spectrum. A Lake Research poll of 500 likely Maine voters pinned support for Maine legislation guaranteeing paid sick days at 85 percent. Among Republicans, 79 percent supported the measure.

Furthermore, the June National Opinion Research Center poll of more than 1,400 people had astonishing results.

Overwhelming majorities support paid sick days as a basic labor standard. Eighty-six percent endorsed the idea of establishing a basic standard of seven paid sick days.

Notably, the support is once again strong among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Passing legislation that establishes paid sick days is not only the right thing to do, but it is also good economic and social policy. Nearly one in six polled said they had lost a job for taking time off to care for an ill family member or cope with their own illness. Additionally, more than half (55 percent) of all workers without paid sick days have gone to work sick.

These impossible and unfair choices have an impact on our public health and even on the health care system overall — driving workers to put off routine and preventative care because they can’t see a doctor during business hours. Again, according to the National Opinion Research Center, workers without paid sick days were twice as likely to go to emergency room because they couldn’t take time off to get medical care during business hours.

This finding is particularly sobering and expensive for Maine. Recent findings by the Muskie School of Public Service and the Maine Health Information Center revealed the use of emergency rooms in the state is 30 percent above the national average. Overuse of emergency rooms drives up health care costs for all of us.

The pundits who disparage paid sick days are quick to point to the business costs of such a measure. But the claims don’t hold up under scrutiny.

When workers go to their jobs sick, they risk prolonging illness and reduce productivity.

Moreover, they spread disease to co-workers and the public — a problem that can result in overwhelming liability for businesses whose policies contribute to widespread outbreaks.

Conversely, employers who offer sick days save money — in increased productivity and job stability.

Employees who take time off to get well save employers money with short absences because they prevent their health from worsening.

The public health data are clear. The business savings are evident.

Now, it’s time for our political representatives to look past the flimsy arguments of the Chamber of Commerce and, instead, do what is right by standing with working families and support paid sick days.