opinion

Inequalities Can't Be Entirely Erased

It might not be possible to make society totally equitable, whether for women, people of color, or people for disabilities.
December 4, 2020Updated 1 month ago
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Inequalities Can't Be Entirely Erased
6 Reasons
Genetic diseases can reduce quality of life and the ability to work. That can affect someone's mental and physical capacities. It can also put strain on their mental health. The practical and emotional toll of these disabilities should not be underestimated—and they are far more common than one might expect.
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Genetic disorders, for instance, can both reduce a person's quality of life and result in limited work opportunities. While some babies can be at a higher risk for genetic disorders based on a mother's age and lifestyle, many of these genetic issues are simply heritable traits that parents can do nothing to prevent their child from getting. Most of what DNA does is instruct cells to make proteins. When a genetic mutation occurs, however, it affects this process. Some causes of genetic mutations and potential genetic diseases include chemical exposure, radiation exposure, smoking, and UV exposure from the sun. Disorders with a genetic component such as autism or ADHD can make it more difficult for employees to work with colleagues or focus on a task. They can also affect a person's social life and romantic life, as they are disorders that can result in substantial problems in interpersonal relationships. Physical genetic disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, may result in reduced mobility which can affect both manual labor jobs and office jobs (someone with MD, for instance, might not be able to access a building that doesn't meet ADA standards). They can also be costly, requiring long-term medical care and living situations that are adapted to a person's physical disabilities. According to results from the Human Genome project—which sequenced the DNA of thousands of people—there are over 6,000 genetic diseases. Of those, 10 are the most common. Those include cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, fragile x syndrome, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, tay-sachs, and Angelman syndrome. Many of these disorders lead to physical and/or mental challenges. Those can in turn affect both someone’s ability to work and their quality of life. Whether it's relatively small things such as a slowness to read facial cues (as is the case with autism), or physical disabilities that make it impossible to hold down a job, these genetic disorders can affect every aspect of someone's daily functioning.
Ordinary accidents can reduce mobility. Millions of daily injuries can determine people's future. Even mundane accidents can exert a lifetime of consequences. Even tripping or a minor injury can end up affecting someone's mobility—and in turn their career and quality of life—for years to come.
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Ordinary accidents—from falls to car accidents—can reduce a person's capabilities. These injuries happen every year to millions of Americans, affecting not only their lives and well-being but that of their families as well. Reduced mobility can cause enormous ripple effects in a person's life. Car accidents alone, for instance, are a significant factor. Each year in the U.S., there are about 6 million car accidents. Of those, 2 million drivers will experience permanent injuries as a result. Whether because of lost limb or chronic pain (especially back injuries), mobility can be greatly reduced following a severe car crash. Some people might need even to go on disability benefits, a choice determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Other types of injuries such as tripping, spraining an ankle, or being injured by a falling object are in fact very common. As many as 8 million emergency room visits annually are owing to falls. The likelihood of falling—and of serious injury—increase greatly with age. One in three adults above age 65 will have a slip and fall accident, according to statistics from a law firm. There are a slew of workplace injuries, too, from violence between employees to strained muscles that can reduce mobility over time. Depending on the circumstances from the injury, an employee may or may not be eligible for workers' compensation. The benefits from that can be piecemeal and may take months to put in place. Victims of accidents may see reduced mobility and a need for extra help for things they once did on their own. Especially for people who are isolated (such as elderly people), these effects can be even more dramatic. That can mean lost income or even reduced access to life-saving healthcare services.
Military injuries are another form of disadvantage. Mental trauma and physical injuries are common, to the point where some have described them as an "epidemic." Women in particular are subject to sexual trauma as well. The scars from these wounds can last long after someone is eventually discharged from the armed forces.
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Military injuries—including psychological trauma—are extremely prevalent among members of the armed forces, regardless of which branch of the military Americans might serve in. These injuries can include those sustained in training or while deployed, and they might be physical and/or emotional. The Army, for instance, describes the problem of military injuries as an "epidemic." According to a recent report, the rate of injury is 2,500 per every 1,000 soldiers. This means that the average American serving in the Army will endure at least two musculoskeletal injuries. This figure includes injuries sustained both on missions and from Army garrisons. According to Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the most common injuries include: "second and third degree burns, broken bones, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and limb loss." Other injuries include "toxic exposure from dust and burn pits and resulting respiratory, cardiac, and neurological disease." As the Watson Institute points out, many of these conditions go undiagnosed meaning that the official Department of Defense figures are likely far lower than the actual numbers. One of the most common injuries suffered by combat veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder. As many as 20% of all veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Persistent flashbacks, moodiness, or anxiety caused by PTSD can prevent veterans from functioning or working normally. Many who suffer from this condition might go untreated, as stigma surrounding mental illness persists in many communities. Specifically for women, military sexual trauma and other issues can cause permanent damage. Some 23% of female veterans report being sexually assaulted, and 55% report being sexually harassed, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. The actual figures are likely even higher, given the number of women who are afraid to report sexual assault for fear of career repercussions. All of these different injuries can disadvantage people who suffer from them, whether physically or psychologically. These obstacles might mean consequences both for a military career and for any civilian career that might follow. In addition, they can challenge people in their family lives, interpersonal relationships, and day-to-day functioning.
But efforts can be made to make inequalities more fair.
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Affirmative Action procedures are in place by the U.S. federal government. Both in the private and public sector, these policies look to level disadvantages and negate some existing institutional prejudice, whether against women, people of color, or disabled people. Data has shown the effectiveness of these programs.
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The United States has an affirmative action policy that must be upheld by all contractors and sub-contractors working on behalf of the federal government. There are multiple state and federal laws that guarantee these policies for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups that might face an additional set of obstacles in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor: "affirmative action must be taken by covered employers to recruit and advance qualified minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and covered veterans. Affirmative actions include training programs, outreach efforts, and other positive steps." Furthermore, there are several offices of the federal government dedicated to ensuring compliance with these guidelines. Other types of affirmative action—both at schools and in private workplaces—work to mitigate the marginalization of people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ people. Rather than a federal obligation, some of these policies are put in place by private institutions seeking to create a diverse environment for the better of the whole community. Affirmative action began under President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s. The idea was that fighting against discrimination was not enough; the government had to actively do something to create a more equal world. Since Kennedy's time, the term has evolved and changed significantly. In the beginning, the task force created by Kennedy was simply charged with the motto: “Don’t just stand there. Do something," according to an article in the New Yorker. In the intervening decades, affirmative action policies have often become more concrete. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that quotas for marginalized groups in schools or workplaces were unconstitutional. Rather, today, many companies instead have proactive policies intended to hire staff who are both diverse and qualified. Affirmative action laws tend to follow from the executive branch of government, with Democratic presidents tending to expand affirmative action policies and Republicans generally restricting them. Under President Barack Obama, for instance, the federal government put regulations in place that rewarded schools that worked to serve minority populations in the form of federal money. President Donald Trump reversed many of Obama's policies in that respect.
For 100 years, labor laws for women have been in place in the United States. This legislation has helped reduce inequality and protect the working population, both from potentially unsafe work environments as well as negligent bosses. Labor policies specific to women and protecting their rights in the workplace have existed for nearly as long.
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For over the past century, the U.S. has had a labor department, meant to guide policies and legislation for workers. These policies have often aimed to create safe working conditions, limit exploitation, and ensure profitability for both employer and employees. In recent history, labor laws have specifically attempted to level the playing field between men and women, members of different ethnicities, and those who identity has LGBTQ+. Labor activists in the first decades of the 20th century fought for such rights as sick pay, vacation days, and benefits for injured workers. Many of those early demonstrations and meetings were about protecting workers from some of the many ways in which employers, especially in urban factory settings, were taking advantage of employees. One key moment that ignited nationwide pressure to establish labor laws was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City. Overwhelmingly young, immigrant women worked in the shirtwaist factory for a pittance in wages. To discourage taking breaks, the owners locked the doors to the factory. So when a fire broke out in 1911, many of the hundreds of workers were trapped inside. Some 150 people would die in that fire, igniting huge protests for better working conditions. An act signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 would establish the U.S. Department of Labor. And the first labor laws would begin to trickle in during the years that followed. The year 1916 would see the first child labor law, greatly restricting labor carried out by anyone under the age of 16 and outright banning workers under the age of 14. This was an enormous development, as many young children had been working in factories from a much younger age. The United States Department of Labor has had a Women's Bureau for 100 years. The first law was passed 100 years ago and gave the bureau the right to "formulate standards and policies which shall promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” During and after the Great Depression, labor protections were hugely expanded, establishing unemployment benefits, social security, and a federal minimum wage. The New Deal was designed primarily by a woman, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. By the 1930s, the secretary of labor would establish the five-day work week, paving the way for other progressive reforms. The protections established throughout the 20th century were designed to reduce inequalities and to protect workers—of all identities—from being exploited. The U.S. Department of Labor, alongside state labor boards and workers unions, have continued to create new laws and enforce older regulations in order to reach this goal.
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