to remain home. Her employer pointed out, however, that “[b]ecause other employees made their way into work, … the weather situation [was not] serious enough to count in the ‘excused absence’ category.” And so Rhiannon, having already used up her excused absence limit prior to the snow day, was fired when she went in to work the next day.
Weather-related transportation woes also can be more than just a nuisance. A snowed-in car, or one that fails to start due to cold weather, can lead to a missed work day. A late bus, a bus on a snow route, or a cancelled bus could mean a missed shift or a late clock-in, which in turn could lead to a lost job. An hourly worker might take the bus in the snow and scramble for childcare, only to find that her shift has been cancelled because there are no customers in the store or restaurant.
Add to the above the risk that a child gets a winter cold, or a child’s caretaker is snowed in. Or factor in that the heat gets shut off for a missed payment, or a back gets strained from shoveling snow or slogging through drifts just to get out of a house or to the bus stop. In a blizzard, the working poor face a multitude of risks at every turn.
As Linda Torado points out in her piece about the challenges of living in poverty: “It’s amazing what things that are absolute crises for me are simple annoyances for people with money. Anything can make you lose your apartment, because any unexpected problem that pops up, like they do, can set off that Rube Goldberg device.”
Snowpocalypse 2015 wasn’t just “any little thing.” It was days and days of things. But without a strong social safety net in place, there was simply no margin for error. We have forced large swathes of our work force into a circumstances where a single prolonged snowstorm–to say nothing of back to back storms like the Northeast saw this year–could mean unemployment, homelessness and significant health risks. As more intense and longer-lasting storms occur due to climate change, this will have a profound and unprecedented impact on the working poor.
Addressing the problem
The first step toward any effective response to this threat involves, first, a recognition of the problem: Our world’s changing climate does not only affect far-flung places, but the working poor right here at home. Our current social safety net fails to account for the myriad crises that play out in poorer families and households on every “snow day”–which more privileged families simply can ride out. The true economic and social impact of weather-related interruptions has now only begun to be studied and understood. But the working poor already feel the real consequences of these storms, and will only suffer greater displacement in the years to come.