The family members' jobs in different areas of the meatpacking business reveals the industry's appalling sanitary conditions. Elzbieta's department exclusively handles spoiled ham, which is pumped full of chemicals, left on the squalid floor, and infested with rats and their droppings.
The meatpackers' toxic hygiene practices, besides being disgusting, serve as a metaphor for the toxic and exploitative labor system the industry perpetuates.
Elzbieta is drained by the revolting work she must perform, often lacking even the energy to speak. She, Jurgis, and Ona regularly trudge home in silence, fall straight asleep, and return to their work early the next morning. In their less numb moments, the family members are overcome with hopelessness and anxiety about their debts: "They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside."
Work has stripped the family of their most fundamental human attributes, leaving them able to focus only on basic, animal needs.
Jurgis turns to alcohol to numb the physical and mental pain his job causes him. He becomes an alcoholic, spending more and more money on drink and feeling more and more ashamed of his addiction.
Jurgis must self-medicate with alcohol to fight his dismal existence. Contrast his behavior here with his earlier practice of having a single drink before rushing home to his family. He is being beaten down, both physically and psychologically. And, to further his difficulties, his shame at having been beaten down only intensifies his need to escape into alcohol—it's a vicious cycle.
Baby Antanas comes down with a number of diseases, including scarlet fever. Despite his miserable condition, he is likely the least unfortunate member of the family, because he bears his illness well.
Only baby Antanas can avoid being depressed by his wretchedness, because he is a baby—the other family members are consumed by their suffering.
Ona becomes pregnant again, and is often hysterical; seeing her anguish makes Jurgis still more deranged. He laments the work that is slowly killing his wife and his family, and opines that factory laborers should be bachelors, because the lifestyle is too monstrous for a married man.
Factory work is tearing the family apart at the seams and eroding their individual humanity. To Jurgis, it seems like capitalism is incapable of fostering healthy, working-class family life. He's coming to the same realizations that led Jonas to abandon the family, though his own love for Ona and Antanas keeps Jurgis around.