Blood Plasma, Sweat, and Tears

When cobbling together a livable income, many of America’s poorest people rely on the stipends they receive for donating plasma.

There is no money to be made selling blood anymore. It can, however, pay off to sell plasma, a component in blood that is used in a number of treatments for serious illnesses. It is legal to “donate” plasma up to two times a week, for which a bank will pay around $30 each time. Selling plasma is so common among America’s extremely poor that it can be thought of as their lifeblood.

But no one could reasonably think of a twice-weekly plasma donation as a job. It’s a survival strategy, one of many operating well outside the low-wage job market.