Baltimore: 'Sick City'?

June 09, 1994

Baltimore revels in its image as a hearty, hard-working blue-collar town where the denizens don't mind playing hurt.

So it was with some alarm that we noted a recent article in American Demographics magazine on "Sickly Cities." Of 33 urban areas surveyed by a statistical bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1988-89, the three that fared the worst for work time lost to illness were the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area, the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News area and Baltimore.

We have no ready explanation for our neighbors to the south in Norfolk. As for Buffalo, we'd call off work sick a lot, too, if we got a couple thousand feet of snow every winter. Still, we have no rationale for why Baltimoreans miss so much work. The state Department of Health didn't have an answer, nor did the Department of Employment and Economic Development. And the state Worker's Compensation Commission, of course, doesn't cover "sick days," but it too was somewhat puzzled by the findings, because Maryland fares well nationally in terms of low worker's comp costs.

The study was extrapolated from interviews with nearly 100,000 households in all of the surveyed cities. Baltimoreans missed 766.9 work days per 100 employed adults over a two-year span, which, when you work it out, isn't all that bad: About four missed days a person per year. But compared to most other cities, Baltimore looked, well . . . sick.

Kansas City and San Antonio workers miss about 1 1/2 days a year. Habitants of other salt-of-the-earth places with which Baltimoreans might identify -- Cleveland, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit -- all miss two, maybe 2 1/2 , sick days a year. Baltimore's difference in sick days might not seem substantial, but it is about 40 percent greater than the 33-city average and, multiplied across the metropolis' work force, adds up to a lot of poor health and/or unproductivity that bodes ill for local business.

We know what some of you are thinking, and you're wrong: The results were not skewed by all the games that former Oriole Glenn Davis missed. He had not arrived in town yet.

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