Snow Days were Hell Weeks for America’s Working Poor

and scooters or those who are dependent on public transportation was also fairly predictable and widely reported and appreciated.

National and regional media did report on business closures, massive municipal snow removal costs and lost days of productivity. But when a news report mentions the costs of “lost business,” the actual human cost of that lost economic activity is harder to picture. When reports confirm, for example, that “retailers and restaurants were the hardest hit,” this means restaurants with fewer filled tables and retail establishments with fewer purchases. Workers in these industries are particularly vulnerable, and not just because they are historically low paid. These workers also have relatively little control over their schedule and thus over how much money they make, even at their comparatively low hourly rate. Many employers require such workers to be available at any time, but when business is slow or nonexistent, employees get sent home or simply do not get called in at all. Retail workers in particular are subject to “just-in-time scheduling” that treats their availability as part of a cost algorithm, without regard to the hours they need to work week to week, their child care needs, or their ability to plan for things like doctors’ appointments.

Consecutive days of snow, with impassible streets and delayed or cancelled bus schedules, are to many a “slow-moving natural disaster.” A food service worker or big box retail worker who receives the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour makes less than $20,000 per year–below poverty level and well below living wage for a family of four. For someone already at subsistence living, every hour worked counts, and every missed hour hurts.

School days

A school snow day, or even a late start, can mean missed meals for a child who receives free or reduced-price breakfast or lunch at school. And for parents with kids, a snow day could mean either another missed work day or an unplanned child care cost, or even a child left to manage on his or her own, which can have unpredictable and serious consequences.

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Jessica Glazer/NPR

Whole Foods employee Rhiannon Broschat lost her job when Chicago Public Schools closed schools last winter, citing the extreme cold that was dangerous for children. Because Rhiannon had no available back-up care for her special needs child, she had

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