Thursday, April 17, 2008

Unnatural Causes: Not Just a Paycheck

Here in Oregon, this and the final episode are showing this Sunday, 11 am. (We've complained in the discussions about what a poor time choice this was by OPB. Shameful.)

What happens when a company pulls out of a town and whole swaths of people become unemployed? More people than would be usual will die. And what can we trace it back to? Everybody now.....toxic stress, and that means....everybody now....too much cortisol. Hmmm...following that link I find that constant noise will cause toxic stress too. That would explain why when I experience PMS that loud noises now get to me. They haven't in the past, but lately sometimes my brain just seems to fizz out, and I need to find the space to breathe. That would also be an additional factor in how place matters...all the noisier things are in the poor sections of a town...airports, train yards, manufacturing plants, etc.

When people lose their jobs, many never recover financially. They don't just lose a paycheck. Their health also spirals downward. People will self-medicate by eating more or turning to alcohol. In Greenville, Michigan, the town featured in this show, the caseload in the local hospital nearly tripled after the big employer, Electrolux, pulled out and moved to Mexico. Electrolux is based in Sweden, a place where it likely could not pull out without compensating the displaced workers, and where workers have scads better social safety nets than we do for unemployment.

Here, there is a still-growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots". Workers have not shared in the wealth from greater productivity. While these are things I agree with, there was quite of bit of this stuff said without supporting statistics. I'm sure they're there, but perhaps they didn't use them because it's not as dramatically straight-forward as all the health stuff has been.

One person said (perhaps the mayor?) that "we live in an individualistic society. We believe that people are responsible for their own fate." We do live in an individualistic society, something that I believe has come up in the community conversations as working against us, but it is a myth that we can be completely responsible for our own fate. It's a myth also that this society is set up to support the individual in creating their own fate. Much of it works against the majority, and supports the few.

In Sweden, the unemployed worker featured gets 80% of his former wage as long as he's going to school or looking for work. He did not have any anxiety or stress over his unemployment. In Sweden, new parents get 16 months paid leave. There, "health is not dependent on personal income, wealth, or job security."

Highlights from the discussion
  • woman has never had a living wage job since she moved to Oregon (she is now unemployed and has been a valuable voice in the when someone suggested barter alternatives, she talked about the tax and unemployment rules and how if she works for her mother for room and board she has to claim the cash equivalent on taxes, and I presume loses some of her unemployment compensation)
  • somebody said that we in the US cannot move to Mexico and get one of those jobs that were outsourced, according to NAFTA. I don't know if that's true. Apparently it is possible to get a job in Mexico, according to this.
  • Unions could exert pressure in Sweden, not here.
  • someone followed that: even strong unions cannot work alone; we need a good government that supports unions; government doesn't support the people, work for the people any more
  • same company wasn't able to be as ruthless in Sweden as it could in the US

Looking for solutions

  • how about we make companies pay for it when they harm workers?
  • if we can't get it on the state level, a Multnomah county tax for job loss support
  • support for the stress of job loss: education, support, medication (one of the first medications people stopped buying was anti-depressants)
  • get grants from corporations to support people with job loss, for health, education; make it as cache to help with health needs as it is to help the library
  • sponsor debates, raise awareness
  • tie relief to farmer's markets; support barter, sharing

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