Among the many alarming effects of climate change, one receives far less attention than it deserves: its economic effect on the working poor.
Most discussions of climate change acknowledge its disproportionate effect on poor communities in developing countries, primarily due to the risk of famine, displacement and disease from rising sea levels, and increases in the severity and frequency of storms or droughts. But our planet’s changing climate is also proving treacherous to the working poor in industrialized nations.
A nuisance for some, a financial disaster for others
During the winter storms of 2015, white collar professionals were not seriously affected. They could still work from home and earn a paycheck–and keep an eye on their kids. But for many others, the storms hindered their ability to even get to work, or to care adequately for their kids. And for the poorest workers, a snow day did not just mean being stuck in the house with bored kids, or a chance to cross-country ski down the street. It was often a financial disaster with cascading effects.
As Evan Horowitz of The Boston Globe noted, “Salaried workers don’t have to worry too much about snow days. Their paychecks will be unaffected. But if you get paid by the hour, then a snow day is a penniless day, a day when you can’t earn any money. In some jobs, it might be possible to make up those hours — think of a manufacturing plant that needs to stay open late a few nights to make up for the lost day — but if you work in a restaurant, for instance, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get those hours back.”
“Snowpocalypse 2015” coverage had both lighthearted and serious stories. Across social media, pictures abounded of snowsuit-clad toddlers and college students goofing off in the drifts. But there were also plenty of reminders about the typical impact of the weather on specific vulnerable populations. Our media dutifully reported that the homeless were the most vulnerable, and homebound elderly could freeze or lose access to services. The impact of snow on people with wheelchairs
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