August 28, 2009

Wealth And Health

Teachers don't make much money. Poor people are have short lifespans. There is a well-established relationship between wealth and health. Reasons for this are many, but I think one factor is the differences in the quality of housing that people can afford. We teachers have made a deliberate trade-off between income and how we spend our workdays. Housing quality is one thing we are giving up, and along with it, our health. I've been renting for ten years because I don't have the financial strength to buy a house, and each place I've rented has been less than ideal. These observations are from the places I've lived:
  • For three years, I lived in rental units next to paper mills and could frequently smell the emissions.
  • My college dorms did not have a usable kitchen, forcing us to eat the only moderately healthy fare served in the cafeteria for a year, causing some of my classmates to gain the infamous freshman fifteen.
  • One rental property was in a basement with the upstairs owner's cat's litter box right outside the door, which they never changed. This owner, one day without warning, decided to re-varnish the floor upstairs. His family escaped the fumes by taking a week-long camping trip, leaving us basement renters to either suck in the fumes or take to the streets.
  • One place had an untested private well, producing water so bad that it was impossible to drink. The only option was to buy bottled water from the local Wal-Mart.
  • Every multi-unit building I've been in has had a smoker in the building.
  • In one rental, the vents from each unit were connected, so that when one person smoked, everyone in the building got it.
  • My new unit has a leaky gas oven which I'm currently fighting about with the landlord. It may be enough for me to break the lease if it's not fixed.
  • Several rentals have been very old, with plumbing and electrical systems to match. The electrical outlets do not have ground wires. The plumbing systems might contain lead. There is undoubtedly exposed lead paint.

I hesitate to play the victim game because I probably could have avoided some of these problems had I been more diligent and selective in my housing search. But some of these things truly were beyond my control – information that I couldn't have found out until I was actually living in the place, and by that time, it was legally impossible to get out of the lease (trust me, I tried).

Many of us, especially those of us in the business content area, could be making much more money if we pursued careers in the private sector. We all knew about the income hit when we took this job, but did we consider the hit to our health? Is it worth it?

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