But What If You Can’t Afford To Stay Home?
What’s a good citizen to do if he or she thinks that cough and sneeze is swine flu? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
This afternoon I’ve been reading Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich – which is ever so more relevant now, if that were possible, than when it was originally released. Near the end she notes:
It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition – austere, perhaps, but they get by somehow, don’t they? They are “always with us.” What is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: The lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog rolls, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The “home” that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be “worked through” with gritted teeth, because there’s no sick pay or health insurance and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle, even a lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment. They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that is how we should see the poverty of so many millions of low-wage Americans – as a state of emergency.
One simply can’t choose to stay home from work under those conditions. In an Afterword written in late 2007, Ehrenreich writes that an Economic Policy Institute report found
an astounding 29 percent of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty [as compared to the more stringent federal poverty line definition]. At least this was the percentage of families earning less than a bare-bones budget covering housing, child-care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes – though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. Twenty-nine percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies have since come up with similar figures.
Can we reasonably expect people living in such conditions to stay home from work while sick – plus two days after symptoms have subsided, as I heard recommended for students at the University of Delaware – when they have no sick pay, no resources to fall back on, and in some cases, not even any real home to stay in while away from work? In some cases, as Ehrenreich observes in her book, work may be the source of one of their free or deeply subsidized meals.
I do not think this bodes well for us as a nation in dealing with a potential pandemic.
Just one more reason why the strategy of short-term gains in the bottom line from keeping workers’ wages and benefits down is not a viable long-term strategy for a healthy economy or society.