Costs and benefits of disasters

Disasters are good for the economy – sort of. They are also very likely to be really bad for people.

Combined, Harvey and Irma will cost about $200 billion – or 1.5% of US GDP.  That’s a huge infusion of capital and cash into the economies of Florida and Texas – and the other affected southeastern states.

Those dollars will go to pay workers, buy new equipment, replace ruined houses, buildings, furniture, technology, and infrastructure.

What’s not accounted for in the $200 billion figure is the cost – both personal and financial – that these disasters will levy on people involved in rescue, clean-up, and re-building.

One example – the bacterial and chemical stew pervading many areas in Houston will lead to immediate and long-term health problems for residents and clean-up workers alike. Living rooms, offices, factory floors, nursing home rooms, healthcare facilities, schoolrooms and firehouses – many will be polluted, requiring thorough cleaning and decontamination.

The real concern here is will the workers tasked with this job have the training, equipment, and clothing required to do this safely.

caption from photo reads: The #HurricaneHarvey clean up crews at our homes that were hired by management number about 200 and notice that none of them were given #Hazmat suits

Several factors are greatly concerning.

  • Texas doesn’t require workers’ comp
  • Companies are desperate to find workers, any workers, who will go into dangerous places and do very hard work in brutally hot and humid conditions
  • Labor brokers are notorious for subcontracting work like this, shaving every possible corner, and in the process hurting workers and dumping the cost of their medical treatment on the public sector
  • There are far too few documented workers available in either state to get the necessary work done quickly, so labor brokers are going to be recruiting undocumented workers.
  • Given today’s political climate and past history, those undocumented workers are far less likely to report and injury or illness
  • Lastly, an illness brought on by exposure to chemicals or bacteria takes days, weeks, months or even years to present, making it a lot harder for any injured worker to prove it was work-related.

What does this mean for you?

While responsible non-subscribers in Texas will do the right thing, many other non-subscribers will not.

Florida’s a different story, but both states must be vigilant to catch unscrupulous labor brokers.

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