The other day a woman came to our office and since I was the only one available I brought her into my office to see how we could help. She had been referred by a neighbor who told her that we had helped her out with a crisis. The woman told me her story. She was not a legal citizen, but had been working as a housekeeper and nanny for many years in the U.S. She had recently lost her job doing housekeeping because of health problems and was out of money, could not pay rent, and did not have food. She had been spending her days looking for work, or in bed recovering. She realized she was not young anymore and was not a desirable employee for the work she did, especially when there were so many young, able-bodied people willing to do the same work faster. I gave her the number for 311, Chicago’s help line. and asked her if she knew about food pantries. She did and was relying on them for sustenance. She had no family and no other resources, and her landlord was threatening to evict her if she didn’t pay. All she wanted was a job. After many questions and much exploring I was left to say the thing that people in this field hate to say, “There is nothing I can do for you right now.”
I know that she is one of many people in similar situations, where the little things, the small problems get amplified into bid deals. Would things be different if she had healthcare deal with her problem? Probably, yes. Her problem was easily resolved for someone with health insurance and she would have been able to look for work full-time. Would a working wage with benefits have helped her? Yes, she could take a week off and get the surgery she needs and recover and be back on her feet working again. Is she to blame for coming to a country and staying after her visa expired? Yes, she had nothing to return to and so made a choice to stay in the land of opportunity, where she had been able to find work. Is she going to end up costing us all a lot of money? Yes, she will probably end up in the emergency room many times, may end up on the street in a shelter and trying to get public support via food stamps and cash assistance. She will need help getting her health back, finding employment, getting another work visa, getting another apartment, etc. These will all take time and money, publicly funded support money.
These are all things that she wants to and could do herself if she were healthy enough, and there were jobs that paid a living wage.
So, what bothers me about the debates over healthcare reform, minimum wage increases and immigration reform are that the people who are affected by our current system are not just those who show up on the doorstep of a non-profit social service organization. We are all affected by the cost of all of those ancillary services needed to pick people up after we have let them fall. It will cost us all more in the long run unless we help with those little things…a little less profit but a living wage for workers, a little higher taxes for health coverage for everyone and a little less xenophobia and a little more of a global family. It’s not much to ask.