John Florez: Our economy is a matter of health

Published: Saturday, April 19 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

A healthy workforce is a healthy economy. “I don’t offer free breakfast out of kindness to my employees, I do so because I know they are more productive when I do. It’s a business investment,” said the CEO of a large insurance company as we toured his Nebraska facility.

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A healthy workforce is a healthy economy. “I don’t offer free breakfast out of kindness to my employees, I do so because I know they are more productive when I do. It’s a business investment,” said the CEO of a large insurance company as we toured his Nebraska facility.

Successful employers know that, just as they understand in today’s digital economy they have to have an educated workforce. They also know an educated workforce is only half the solution; the other half is a healthy workforce.

So, why is it that many of our lawmakers fail to see the importance of a healthy population and a healthy economy? They talk about the need for an educated workforce in order to successfully compete in the world marketplace, yet fail to see if we don’t have healthy workers or a healthy pool of workers to draw upon, our economy will flounder. A healthy economy depends upon a healthy workforce, and so is the converse — a loss of work hours due to poor health.

“A healthy workforce is one of our most important economic assets as a nation,” (“Health and productivity among U.S. workers,” August 2005). It is estimated that job absenteeism due to poor health costs America $153 billion a year. Gallup studied individuals in 14 occupations with health problems and found about 77 percent of them had one-third of a day more absent each month than their counterparts, at an estimated cost of about $341 per day to their respective employers (“Poor Health Tied to Big Losses,” May 7, 2013).

Health care is an economic generator. According to the Public Consulting Group (PCG) study commissioned by the Utah State Health Department on Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, it estimates the state could generate a $2.9 billion economic impact, create 4,100 new jobs, generate $203 million in state and county tax revenues, and save $814 million in hospital and community center uncompensated costs over the next 10 years. Furthermore, it would reduce the number of lost workdays, according to the Gallup study and the Nebraska CEO.

Our people are our greatest natural resource. We may have an educated workforce, but if it loses work hours due to poor health, it’s a loss in our investment. Now, there are over 100,000 working poor Utahns who, if they could afford health care, could enhance our state’s workforce. Some may have families with children sitting in today’s classrooms, and we have a choice; either we invest in their health today as our workers of tomorrow, or relegate them to a lifetime of poverty. Now, according to the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, 14 percent of Utah’s children miss about 6-10 days per school year (“2011/12 national survey of children's health”). Creating a culture of preventive health care in today’s children will go far in cultivating tomorrow’s productive workers.

We take health for granted, until we lose it. Then there is nothing more important. We all too often talk about personal responsibility and forget the moral responsibility we have as a people living in a civil society — to “promote the general welfare.”

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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