Why did thousands of working nurses and supporters converge on scores of Congressional offices from Maine to California last week? How is it that nurses working long shifts at demanding jobs took time away from rest and family to appear before their representatives?

Why are nurses talking about a Wall Street tax to heal Main Street?

The simple reason is this: We are a nation that is worried sick. It’s of epidemic proportions, tied to an economy in freefall for many people and whose bottom is nowhere in sight. We nurses see the effects. We see them during every work shift, every day.  It is overwhelming—in the hospitals we staff, in our communities, in our own homes. Stress is bending our minds and breaking our bodies. With heart attacks in younger men, a range of gut disorders in people of all ages, severe anxiety—even among children. And more. All on the rise. The Wall Street economy is doing us in.

I have story after story. One fellow nurse told me of a man in his early 40’s arriving at the ER in Minneapolis suffering a heart attack and yet insisting on going back to work without delay.  He could not afford to lose pay from his temp job.  Nor could he – like growing numbers of Americans — pay for the hospitalization. Patients cannot incur the costs of medicines, report nurses from around the country, with predictable consequences. Among those who must forego their meds are heart transplant patients. Others are forced to put off critical scans or procedures, like colonoscopies for cancer patients, because of high co-pays. Mental health care is virtually non-existent for the millions of men, women and children living on the margins— so they must fend for themselves amidst the crushing consequences of severe emotional trauma. 

New research from Janet Currie of Princeton and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State asserts a direct correlation between foreclosure rates and health declines in four states.  For every 100 foreclosures there was a 7.2% rise in ER visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, an 8.1 percent increase for diabetes and 12 percent more visits related to anxiety among 20-49 year olds. 

We hear the corporate mantra—“we have no confidence” – and it makes us sick. “No confidence” in a government that cannot act because revenue is gone, used up to bailout financial institutions? The same institutions paying out billions in bonuses, again? Where tax rates are low and loopholes ubiquitous, to the point where some elites are even saying, “tax us”?  “No confidence” in consumers? When wages are flat and 25 million Americans are looking for fulltime work? Impoverish tens of millions and wonder why they do not shop? “No confidence” in a society holding onto trillions of dollars, in an act of cash hoarding of historic proportions? Two trillion dollars sitting in corporate coffers, yet CEOs paralyzed due to their “lack of confidence” in America? The same CEOs being paid multi-million dollar salaries to figure out how to unravel their payrolls?  Companies with $1.5 trillion in profits overseas, unwilling to bring that money back to America without a special tax break? “No confidence,” say banks, as a way to explain galloping foreclosure rates? The same banks that showed no initiative in following through on promises to assist these same families? To use the bailout money we gave them – they are still holding $500 billion, according to economist Robert Pollin — to keep people in their homes? 

And about millions of lost homes? The Princeton/Georgia State study reports a 39 percent increase in ER admissions for suicide attempted post-foreclosure.

 “No confidence” in the richest country in the world? By far? Where S&P 500 companies averaged 13 percent return on their money last year?  It is enough to make you sick. And that is exactly what’s happening. 

Their “lack of confidence” is a convenient way to explain the draining of the country’s working capital and its low tax revenue—and, with it, hope in a future.

The elites give no mercy in today’s America, as our fundamental state of health – even among our children – takes a backseat to Wall Street’s insatiable appetite for privileged lifestyle.  Who, we might ask, will be the first trillionaire? There’s a story pitch the national media would invite.

A fair and equitable tax system, where wealthy corporations and individuals start to pay their share, is the start. A Wall Street transaction tax – and other nations’ versions – now exist in 40 countries and at seven major stock exchanges. A tax was passed by the parliament of the European Union. Good jobs, retirements, schools, quality health care for all… let’s fund it. That’s why thousands of nurses hit the streets on September 1, and asked congressmen and senators in 61 locales: support a tax on Wall Street transactions – they can certainly afford it – and get the healing of Main Street underway. 

Without it, this nation of sickness will get much sicker. Ask a nurse.