Health Scare Underlines Need to Repair Safety Nets

May 1, 2009 posted by Shyama Venkateswar The recent health alert on swine flu has serious implications for those surviving at the margins of society without health care, paid sick leave, or other benefits. Women working in low-skill jobs are particularly vulnerable. Judith Warner's piece in the NYT brings much-needed attention to this issue: how to provide economic security for millions of women, particularly those who are single heads of households, working part-time jobs that are tenuously held at best.   NCRW's Big 5 Campaign has generated hard-hitting data on these issues revealing the disparities that women, especially women of color, face in accessing basic services:

  • 44.8 million people in the United States lack health insurance—half of whom are people of color
  • 46 million U.S. workers do not have paid sick days and nearly 76% of low-income workers do not have any paid leave in case of illness.

President Obama’s agenda for vulnerable communities must address the health care and basic needs of families on the margins. As Judith Warner points out, the Healthy Families Act is a good starting point. Other possibilities include providing part-time employees with healthcare, paid sick leave for themselves and their dependents, and providing women with skills-training to move into better jobs, including in non-traditional fields. This would certainly help strengthen safety nets that low and middle-income people so desperately need. As Warner wrote, “If the swine flu outbreak forces lawmakers, at long last, to give workers and families some of the protections that they need, perhaps this crisis will, on some level, turn out to have a silver lining, too.”

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