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Inequality Is (Literally) Killing America

By Zoë Carpenter for the Nation

Only a few miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Upton Druid Heights. But residents of the two areas can measure the distance between them in years—twenty years, to be exact. That’s the difference in life expectancy between Roland Park, where people live to be 83 on average, and Upton Druid Heights, where they can expect to die at 63.

Underlying these gaps in life expectancy are vast economic disparities. Roland Park is an affluent neighborhood with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, and a median household income above $90,000. More than 17 percent of people in Upton Druid Heights are unemployed, and the median household income is just $13,388.

It’s no secret that this sort of economic inequality is increasing nationwide; the disparity between America’s richest and poorest is the widest it’s been since the Roaring Twenties. Less discussed are the gaps in life expectancy that have widened over the past twenty-five years between America’s counties, cities and neighborhoods. While the country as a whole has gotten richer and healthier, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk and Americans without high school diplomas have seen their life expectancy slide back to what it was in the 1950s. Economic inequalities manifest not in numbers, but in sick and dying bodies.

On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders convened a hearing before the Primary Health and Aging subcommittee to examine the connections between material and physiological well-being, and the policy implications. With Congress fixed on historic reforms to the healthcare delivery system, the doctors and public health professionals who testified this morning made it clear that policies outside of the healthcare domain are equally vital for keeping people healthy—namely, those that target poverty and inequality.

“The lower people’s income, the earlier they die and the sicker they live,” testified Dr. Steven Woolf, who directs the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. In America, people in the top 5 percent of the income gradient live about nine years longer than those in the bottom 10 percent. It isn’t just access to care that poor Americans lack: first, they are more likely to get sick. Poor Americans are at greater risk for virtually every major cause of death, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As Woolf put it, “Economic policy is not just economic policy—it’s health policy.”

Tracing health disparities back to their socioeconomic roots adds context to growing calls for pro-worker policies like raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave. Lisa Berkman, director of Harvard’s Center for Population and Development Studies, presented a range of evidence indicating that policies supporting men and women in the labor force—particularly low-wage and female workers—lead to better health for themselves and their families.

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  1. […] Healthcare-NOW! – Inequality Is (Literally) Killing America This is the reason that the "richest" Americans, and those that run large corporations want continued access to low cost "illegal" aliens. It is simply a newer version of the early middle ages feudalistic system of Europe—expendable bodies performing "slave" labor either by being illegal and afraid to go to a hospital for being reported, or by being legal and having such low pay that to leave employment where they are treated like the slaves they are is to "lose" health insurance for themselves and perhaps their families. It's enough to make me gag every time I see someone write about all the economic "advantages" of the U.S.. Advertising controls the minds of most of the middle class to alter their perception of reality to the point they actually believe the lies put out by the biggest corporations in the U.S. that "people are our most valuable resource." That's until a rainy day comes along. I remember as an employee of Travelers Corporation in the early to mid-seventies, being called to a branch meeting to view a video by then CEO Morrison Beach who stated things were "tough" economically, but "never in its 150 year history had Travelers laid off a single employee, and it has no intention of doing so now. But it is incumbent on every employee to be as productive as possible." Four months later Travelers laid off every employee with less than two years with the company, plus more (15,000 before it was all over). I had worked there 26 months and escaped by the skin of my teeth. To lay off that many employees required months of pre-planning to calculate the impact in every area of the company. Beach had been lying through his own teeth in that video while "reassuring" employees of their value. I've never trusted any corporation anywhere about anything ever again. And those with any brains won't either. And that's why getting health care out of the control of employers is so very important to stabilize the national economy. […]