FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Simple Prescription for a Longer Life: Economic Equality

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released some welcome news recently: Americans are living a tiny bit longer. In 2018, U.S. life expectancy inched up about a month, from 78.6 to 78.7 years.

The White House credited “President Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and really the entire administration” for the increase, the first since 2014.

In fact, the modest uptick owes next to nothing to the Trump administration. Americans are living slightly longer, a Washington Post analysis points out, “despite the Trump administration’s health-care policies.”

From day one in office, the Trump team has worked to undermine the federal programs expanding access to addiction treatment, even as overdoses have been the single most deadly driver of America’s recent — and unprecedented — life-expectancy declines.

Thankfully, legal challenges and regulatory changes have narrowed Big Pharma’s capacity to addict struggling Americans. Overdose deaths dropped 4.1 percent in 2018.

Can we now stop worrying?

Only at our peril. Even with the 2018 uptick, American lives last no longer on average today than they did back in 2010. In effect, we’ve gone a decade without any appreciable increase in life expectancy.

Think about that for a moment. Over recent years, we’ve seen major breakthroughs in cancer treatment. We’ve seen more and more Americans paying close attention to their daily choices. Yet Americans, on the whole, are living no longer.

The even more troubling reality: Americans live nowhere near as long as people elsewhere in the developed world. A new studyfrom the Commonwealth Fund shows that U.S. life expectancy lags significantly behind Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland’s.

All these nations, to add insult to injury, spend significantly less on health care than us. “We live sicker and die younger than our counterparts around the world,” notes Roosa Tikkanen, a Commonwealth Fund research associate. “We can do better.”

Why aren’t we doing better?

In recent years, analysts have pointed the finger at what economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case call “deaths of despair,” everything from drug overdoses to suicides. In 2017 alone, they note, Americans experienced 158,000 deaths of despair — “theequivalent of three fully loaded Boeing 737 MAX jets falling out of the sky every day for a year.”

Deaton and Case link these deals to the “falling wages and “dearth of good jobs” in an age of rising inequality. But not just struggling working families have suffered. American middle-income families overall have shorter, less healthy lives than their middle-income counterparts in other developed nations.

Inequality itself seems to be a killer.

Most of us can understand how sheer poverty can adversely affect health. But how can higher levels of economic inequality affect the health of people with middle incomes? Many epidemiologists see stress as the prime villain.

“The more unequal the society, the more people feel anxiety about status and how they are seen and judged,” British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett explain. “These effects are seen across all income groups — from the poorest to the richest tenth of the population.”

Greater inequality, greater anxiety, greater stress. That stress pounds daily on our immune systems, leaving us ever weaker and more susceptible to disease, ever more despairing and addicted to whatever may bring us momentary relief — from drugs to booze to junk food.

In the middle of the 20th century, the developed world had no huge life expectancy gap between the United States and its peer nations. Yet we’ve become the world’s most unequal major developed nation. And the more unequal we become, the further behind we fall in life expectancy.

That leaves us with a simple prescription for longer life: If we Americans want to have a healthier society, a healthier distribution of income and wealth.

More articles by:

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book:The Case for a Maximum Wage  (Polity). Among his other books on maldistributed income and wealth: The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970  (Seven Stories Press). 

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail