With the startling new unemployment numbers coming out this week, it’s a good time to focus on what this actually means to the individual people.

New York Times takes a look at the 275 workers who were recently laid off when the Archway cookie factory had to shutter its doors in the fall…

About 10.3 million Americans were unemployed in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of unemployed has increased by 2.8 million, or 36 percent, since January of this year, and by 4.3 million, or 71 percent, since January 2001. […]

Starla D. Darling, 27, was pregnant when she learned that her insurance coverage was about to end. She rushed to the hospital, took a medication to induce labor and then had an emergency Caesarean section, in the hope that her Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan would pay for the delivery.

Wendy R. Carter, 41, who recently lost her job and her health benefits, is struggling to pay $12,942 in bills for a partial hysterectomy at a local hospital. Her daughter, Betsy A. Carter, 19, has pain in her lower right jaw, where a wisdom tooth is growing in. But she has not seen a dentist because she has no health insurance. […]

Another former Archway employee, Jeffrey D. Austen, 50, said he had canceled shoulder surgery scheduled for Oct. 13 at the Cleveland Clinic because he had no way to pay for it.

“I had already lined up an orthopedic surgeon and an anesthesiologist,” Mr. Austen said.

In mid-October, Janet M. Esbenshade, 37, who had been a packer at the Archway plant, began to notice that her vision was blurred. “My eyes were burning, itching and watery,” Ms. Esbenshade said. “Pus was oozing out. If I had had insurance, I would have gone to an eye doctor right away.”

She waited two weeks. The infection became worse. She went to the hospital on Oct. 26. Doctors found that she had keratitis, a painful condition that she may have picked up from an old pair of contact lenses. They prescribed antibiotics, which have cleared up the infection.

How often in our nation’s history have the lives of many been forever altered by the bad decisions of the few? And this hasn’t been any more evident in the past half century than right now. But this is how our economy works, and so we must accept it. But what we don’t have to accept is the reality that over 40 million Americans are without health care. This is wrong. The government will never be able to prop up companies like Archway, but it can make sure that every single American has access to a basic safety net that every single first world country in the world except us has.

Of course the question after that is “How to pay for it?”

Well, I’ve got at least one idea, but the quicker we figure out how to get everybody covered, the more likely it is we’ll find ways to save money because the efficiencies will become obvious.

NY Times gets the last word…

M. Harvey Brenner, a professor of public health at the University of North Texas and Johns Hopkins University, said that three decades of research had shown a correlation between the condition of the economy and human health, including life expectancy.

“In recessions, with declines in national income and increases in unemployment,” Mr. Brenner said, “you often see increases in mortality from heart disease, cancer, psychiatric illnesses and other conditions.”

Politics Remember, Unemployed Means Uninsured