Is Chronic Occupational Pain a Class Issue?

Americans in households making less than $30,000 a year spend nearly 20% of their lives in moderate to severe pain, compared with less than 8% of people in households earning above $100,000

Millions of Americans in Chronic Pain – TIME

Based on a study published in the Lancet (much moolah required to read, funny that the authors of an article on the class/money based nature of pain would publish in a journal that requires all kinds of money to read, heard of PLOS?), one would have to say yes. People in low paying service jobs don’t have the luxury of mid afternoon yoga, or that once a week massage, or being able to take a “mental health” day, or any such luck. Also, the work is physically demanding, long hours of standing, heavy lifting, and repetitive motions the body was not designed for.

Krueger notes that the type of pain people reported typically fell on either side of the rich-poor divide. “Those with higher incomes welcome pain almost by choice, usually through exercise,” he says. “At lower incomes, pain comes as the result of work.” Indeed, Krueger and Stone found that blue-collar workers felt more pain, from physical labor or repetitive motion, while on the job

It is very sad, but a lot of this pain is avoidable. Next time you go to the grocery store, notice that the people at the check out counter stand all the time. Why? What about their job requires continuous standing? I’ve been to other countries, Germany for instance, where they are provided with high chairs that help them move the items from the conveyor through the scanner to the bagging area with much less effort. How many chairs have you seen in a grocery store lately?

Why can’t this very simple system be implemented? It would provide much relief. Three major issues:

  1. Lack of bargaining power: Unions are a dirty word. Last I heard, the unionization rate in the states was 12%. No one speaks for the cashier. It is considered a low paying, low skill occupation where people can be replaced easily and without “pain”. So, you’re on your own, ask for a chair, and you’ll be seated in one very soon (at home, your ass fired and tired).
  2. Money: And this is linked to point 1. Implementation of any programs designed to make workers’ lives a little easier costs money up front. Since workers are expendable and have no voice, it’s easiest to steal from them and deny them basic comforts.
  3. The American notion of individualism: You deserve what you get based on how hard you work and how intelligent you are. Grocery store cashiers must be lazy and dumb to be where they are. they “deserve it”

I don’t see it changing at all. But next time you walk into a grocery store and find a rather sullen clerk, it’s not that she’s lazy or has a bad attitude, she may just be in a lot of pain.

Happy Sunday!

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