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What Recovery? Record Number Of Americans Become Blood Plasma "Sellers" To Make Ends Meet

Having previously explained President Obama's recovery in charts, we thought words and pictures would be a better indicator of the dire situation facing so many Americans that get missed by the business media's spotlight. With 9.4 million more Americans below the poverty line than before the crisis, as The LA Times reports, it's disturbing to see so many people so destitute - even if they're working - that they've resorted to selling body fluids to make ends meet. The going rate for plasma donation, which can take a couple of hours, is about $25 or $30. But Octapharma is offering $50 for the first five visits, "when you get that $50, you feel good," one plasma 'seller' said, "I paid my gas bill."

Despite the Fed continuing to kick this down the road, they continue to claim that we are in the middle of an ongoing recovery. There’s just one problem with that: things are getting worse than pre-crisis levels for millions of the poorest Americans.

 

Obamanomics illustrated...

 

But it gets worse, as 1000s of unemployed (and under-employed) Americans resort to selling their blood plasma to make ends meet (as The LA Times reports)

"The line was too long," a middle-aged woman named Joyce Rogers said as she got into her car outside Octapharma Plasma in Van Nuys.

 

Rogers, a certified nurse assistant, told me she was going to a job interview and would return later to see if the line had thinned. But it seldom seems to. I've seen dozens of people reclined on lounges, fat 17-gauge needles in their arms, while dozens more wait in the packed lobby and the parking lot, some of them with children in tow.

 

The going rate for plasma donation, which can take a couple of hours, is about $25 or $30. But Octapharma is offering $50 for the first five visits, and a poster in the lobby says: "Donate 10X by the end of October for a chance to win a TV!!!"

 

"When you get that $50, you feel good," Rogers said. "I paid my gas bill."

 

At the same center, three veterans sat in a skunky-smelling car in the parking lot and told me they pay a different kind of bill with their plasma money.

 

"Medical marijuana," said one of the three. "It helps with my anxiety."

Whatever the motive of the sellers, the plasma business is a booming, $20-billion-dollar international enterprise, according to Patrick Robert, an industry analyst. Demand for plasma is growing worldwide, he said, because the body fluid is used to manufacture drugs that treat immune disorders, protein disorders, shock, severe burns and other maladies, with business expanding into developing countries.

Octapharma and Biomat USA are each a division of a European-based pharmaceutical company, but the vast majority of the world's plasma providers are in the United States, where screening and handling regulations are considered safe, and selling fluids is more culturally acceptable.

"We have all kinds of donors, under-employed or unemployed," said Vlasta Hakes, spokeswoman for Grifols, the Spanish company that owns Biomat USA.

 

She said Grifols has 150 plasma centers in the U.S., with five in California including huge, sleek facilities in Bellflower and Lake Balboa. On average, 1,000 people sell plasma weekly at each center.

 

Like other industry reps, Hakes refers to plasma "donors" rather than plasma sellers, which may sound a little better from a marketing perspective. She emphasizes the great benefit of plasma-based drugs.

 

But it's disturbing to see so many people so destitute — even if they're working — that they've resorted to selling body fluids. For their trouble, they make something akin to minimum wage while billions of dollars flow into corporate bank accounts.

Dr. Roger Kobayashi, a Nebraska physician who teaches immunology at UCLA, takes it a step further. He raises moral and ethical questions about the commodification of a body fluid by international businesses that sometimes behave in ways that hurt patients.

"Prices keep going up, and it's becoming harder to get the drugs to patients because they can't afford it," Kobayashi said. "The people who are making a lot of money are the investors and the corporations."

 

And they are well aware that for many people living on the edge, personal economics is all that matters.

 

"This is my first time," a middle-aged woman named Elizabeth told me at the Lake Balboa Biomat USA. She said she took time off from a job to care for her ailing mother, and now she can't find work.

 

"If you would have told me five years ago that I'd end up in here, I wouldn't have believed it. It's reality, and it's humbled me for sure."

 

At the Orange Biomat, Navy veteran Tim Edwards told me he makes about $13.50 an hour setting up alcohol displays in stores, and he was waiting to hear if he got a better job he'd applied for.

 

"I can't pay my debts," he said. "I have mixed feelings because I don't want to have to do this. At the same time, it feels good to be doing something positive for other people."

However in The Land Of The Free, there are numerous other bodily fluids one can produce and exchange for cash... (as wisebread.com reports)

1. Sperm

For a young guy who lacks money, sperm donation can seem like the ultimate gig. It pays well, and the process involved is, um, pretty familiar. (The vast majority of donors are college students.)

 

What It Involves

 

Sperm donation kind of seems like getting cash for something you may (or may not, no judgments…) be doing anyway, but it's a lot more complicated than that. You have to be tall (at least 5'10" or taller, depending on the sperm bank.) You have to be smart… or at least be enrolled in college. You have to be between the ages of 18 and 35. In terms of of your chances, most donors are caucasian (most recipients are white couples), of a healthy weight, and not redheads.

 

If you fit the bill, you'll still have to sit through a job-interview-style round of questions about you, your life, and your future goals. This will be followed by a battery of health questions, including ultra-personal ones about your health status, your sex life, and your sexual partners. Even if you make it through this gauntlet of challenges, you'll have to hand over your first two donations free of charge, so that your little swimmers can be tested.

 

The Payout

 

Sperm banks set their own rates, but payouts range from $30 to $200 per, um, donation. However, if you're accepted as a donor, you'll often have to sign a contract to donate weekly over a long period of time — like six months to a year — during which time your checks may be held in escrow until your term is up. The money might be good, but it isn't fast and it isn't as easy as it sounds.

2. Eggs

I really don't know if eggs are a liquid or not. What I do know is that they are donated to people who are unable to conceive, and they provide a very high payout compared to most other fluids. So, let's just assume they come in liquid form and roll with it, okay?

What It Involves

Donating eggs is no picnic. In fact, just getting to the actual egg donation (and payment) stage takes time, energy, and some degree of physical discomfort. First, donors have to fill out a questionnaire. If that's accepted, they will be asked to come in for a physical exam, psychological testing, blood tests, and a genetic screening. If you're approved as a donor, you'll have to wait at least a month to donate.

 

Next comes the donation cycle, and that's no picnic either. You will be injected with fertility drugs to stimulate the development of a number of eggs. Over the next two weeks, you'll have to continue to inject yourself with hormones and make daily morning visits to the clinic so that they can adjust your dosage and check on your progress. After seven to 12 days of this carnival ride, you'll be ready to have your eggs retrieved. You'll be anesthetized, and the eggs will be removed with a syringe. The procedure isn't painful, but the hormonal changes make it physically demanding, and mild side effects like moodiness and fluid retention can last up to two weeks. There are also some very serious side effects (although they're rare) to consider with this procedure.

 

The Payout

Well, it's big — $6,000 to $10,000 per donation depending on the market, the desirability of your particular donation, and the donation center you choose. If you work full time, that'll be offset by some lost time at work and some serious hassles, not to mention potential health consequences. There are no firm rules on how many times women can donate, but most clinics ask that they only do so a few times because the long-term health risks of the procedure are unknown.

3. Breast Milk

If you're a new mother, you may be carrying the equivalent of liquid gold: breast milk. And because some moms have way too much, while others have very little (or none at all), a group of moms got the idea to share the love by donating or selling breast milk to those who can't produce their own.

What It Involves

Pumping your breast milk and shipping it, on ice, to people who need it. There are online services to facilitate this process, most prominently onlythebreast.com, the Craigslist of breast milk exchange. You could probably even post your own ad in your community.

The Payout

On breast milk exchanges, milk tends to sell for $1.50 to $3.00 per ounce. To put that in perspective, a baby needs between 13 and 42 ounces of milk per day, depending on his or her weight — at $3 an ounce, that's $39 to $126 a day. Yowza!

4. Urine

Why would someone want to buy your pee? Because those who are subject to drug tests — whether for work or sports or parole — may not be able to pass those tests with their own urine. And, where there's demand, there will be supply.

What It Involves

Producing, packaging, and shipping your pee to other people. If you're really enterprising, you could even make a business out of it. In the late 1990s, a South Carolina man produced 50 urine samples a day, selling more than 15,000 samples per year before the state shut him down. Several other states have since passed similar laws.

The Payout

The going rate appears to be about $20 per ounce — and possibly jail time.

Whether it's a tiny condo in a bad part of town or a bag of someone else's urine, if there's enough demand for something, it will become valuable. Why do people sell bodily fluids for money? Simple answer: Because they can. That's just the way economies work.

*  *  *

And finally, if this is the 'recovery' just what will the next recession look like?

 

Charts: Bloomberg