Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Stress, Working Conditions and Workers Health

Carlos Rich • Oct 14, 2010

Low paying and high stress jobs take a toll on the human body.   No I am not a doctor, but I spend a lot of time talking to low wage workers in high stress work environments across the Midwest.  I have seen how these factors have contributed to illnesses like hypertension and depression.

According to 2010 StressRelatedIllness.com,

Stress is one of the main reasons for the chronically elevating blood pressure which in turn causes hypertension. Stress also produces large amounts of vasoconstriction hormones that increase blood pressure. Job strain, race, social environment and emotional stress are the leading causes for hypertension.

Let me tell you a story of two men I just met to further explain what I see.   One man is a Mexican American from Texas, he is Chicano.   The other is an African American man from Chicago.   These men have known each other for about 4 years.  They met working in a processing plant in Iowa and share twenty years of experience working in similar fields.  Through unforeseen circumstances they have both lost their jobs at the same time and moved to find new jobs in the eastern part of the state.  In turn, they both left their families in one part of the state to find new work.

Listening to their past and stories about their hard and honest work has taught me a lot.  They told me that trying to find a job in the last 9 months has been tough and they have only been able to find jobs cutting meat for $8.50 an hour.   The African American man said to me, “I’m back to square one from when I started in the eighties.   But I have to do it, I have to support my family.”

The Chicano man told me that he has to share an apartment with 5 other people in order to save money to send back home for his family.  He said that this is causing him lots of stress because he is not making enough to make ends meet.   He said that being away from his family and not having enough money to pay for the five hour trip back home has caused him depression.

The low pay and crowded space has been hard on him and on his overall health.  He said, “I have to do it, I have to come here to work, so that my children and my wife can have food to eat.   I just don’t want to move them, I want my children to have a stable life.   They are happy right now in our small home that we purchased and my wife only has to work part time, which is enough to pay for the babysitter.”  Holding back tears, he said to me, “I have to go to therapy, but I have no insurance and they are charging me $68 dollars a week.  When I am making $8.50 an hour, you can imagine it’s hard.”  He was more concerned that his children can go to the doctor even if his health was taking a toll.    He continued to share his story, “you know why I struggling, it’s because I’m trying to do everything honestly.   I am not cheating the system and it makes me mad when I hear people say that Mexicans are taking away ‘our’ jobs and draining ‘our’ health system.   People make assumption all the time, but they don’t really know what we are going through.”

These are the kind of stories I hear day in and day out.   Immigrants and workers of color struggle on a daily basis to survive and make ends meet.   In reality, we don’t know enough about their struggles to survive, until we get listen to their personal stories.  We all struggle, we all have to make sacrifices, but when there is no structural support in place to help, it becomes challenging to overcome obstacles we face.  People are forced to other means like of self medication to ease pain.  Low wage workers put their lives at risk to feed us every day.  The many pressures they face to produce at a high rate and for long periods of time, the lack of bathroom breaks, the lack of adequate equipment and the inability for workers to go to a doctor, make working conditions very hard.

If we had a livable wage, reduced health care costs for all and prioritized mental health, in the long run we could protect our workers and prevent medical problems at earlier stages.

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