Junkfood Science: A Labor Day health story

September 07, 2009

A Labor Day health story

The health story for this Labor Day is the health of our labor force. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest employment figures on Friday. The unemployment rate jumped to 9.7% in August — a 26-year high — as payrolls fell by another 216,000 jobs. A total of 14.9 million Americans are now listed as unemployed, with an additional 9.1 million working at part-time jobs rather than the full-time work they want. What does this have to do with health? Let’s look.

Civilian unemployment rates for the past decade from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal just how significant this year's rise in unemployment has been:

But looking at the Bureau’s data, layoffs haven’t been the primary impetus for the recent rising unemployment rates. Layoffs account for about 11 percent of the unemployed this year. [Below: number of unemployed due to layoffs and total unemployed from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.] People with jobs have also been far less likely to quit their jobs, which is understandable when job prospects are so gloomy. People aren’t losing jobs as much as businesses aren’t creating jobs, even while the work force grows.

Jobs don’t materialize out of the ether, of course. Businesses create jobs. When economic prospects for businesses are unfavorable and they can’t anticipate a reasonable return for the risks, they are less likely to invest in equipment and resources to expand or create new products … and create new jobs, entrepreneurs are less eager to take a risk to launch a new business… and create new jobs, and banks or investors are less likely to take a risk to provide the needed capital for business growth… and to create new jobs.

And what would you guess happens to jobs as taxes on businesses, especially those that show a profit, are raised?

Unemployment and job insecurity are not good for people’s health. A review of epidemiological evidence, led by Dr. Robert Jim, a specialist with the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, reported higher rates of overall mortality, deaths due to cardiovascular disease and suicides among unemployed adults than among either employed people or the general population, even after adjusting for smoking, alcohol use and dietary fat. Associations are not evidence of causation, but something associated with being unemployed has a role. Unemployed people also appear to be more likely than employed people to visit physicians, take medications or be admitted to general hospitals, they wrote. While unemployment and economic issues may not seem part of health care, these authors argue that medical professionals have an important role in furthering economic growth.

We are reminded that the greatest health risk factor is poor financial health and that social-economic disadvantage is associated with four times the risks of poor health outcomes, regardless of health insurance or access to health care.

So, if you’re among the 24 million Americans looking for a good job, or the countless others who are worried about the security of the jobs they have, which would you prefer?

● a government health insurance policy, made possible by raising taxes, notably on corporations, to cover a $1.6 trillion price tag, or

● a good job with long-term growth potential in a strong, thriving economy?

© 2009 Sandy Szwarc

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