Wednesday, December 09, 2015

America Health Declines

We’ve all heard that the American Dream is vanishing, and that the cause is rising income inequality. The rich are getting richer by rigging the system in their favor, leaving the rest of us to struggle just to keep our heads above water. Life expectancy is now declining for middle-aged white Americans, especially those with a high school education or less. Despite years of work intended to eliminate health disparities by increasing access to care and focusing on individual behavior change, health inequality, just like economic inequality, has grown in the country, the researchers say. Arline Geronimus, professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health explained “…individual behavior is a smaller part of the picture than many believe." 

America prides itself on being one of the world’s most prosperous countries, and can boast that in every recent year except one (2009) per capita GDP has increased. And a sign of prosperity is supposed to be good health and longevity. But, while the US spends more money per capita on medical care than almost any other country (and more as a percentage of GDP), it is far from topping the world in life expectancy. France, for example, spends less than 12% of its GDP on medical care, compared to 17% in the US. Yet Americans can expect to live three full years less than the French.

The racial gap in health is, of course, all too real. According to a study published in 2014, life expectancy for African Americans is some four years lower for women and more than five years lower for men, relative to whites. It is a symptom of pervasive discrimination against African Americans, reflected in median household income that is less than 60% that of white households. The effects of lower income are exacerbated by the fact that the US is the only advanced country not to recognise access to health care as a basic right. Some, however, have attempted to shift the blame for dying younger to African Americans themselves, citing their “lifestyles”. It is perhaps true that unhealthy habits are more concentrated among poor Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are black. But these habits themselves are a consequence of economic conditions, not to mention the stresses of racism.

America is becoming a more divided society – divided not only between whites and African Americans, but also between the 1% and the rest, and between the highly educated and the less educated, regardless of race. And the gap can now be measured not just in wages, but also in early deaths. White Americans, too, are dying earlier as their incomes decline. America is becoming a more divided society – divided not only between whites and African Americans, but also between the 1% and the rest, and between the highly educated and the less educated, regardless of race. And the gap can now be measured not just in wages, but also in early deaths. White Americans, too, are dying earlier as their incomes decline. This evidence is hardly a shock to those of us studying inequality in America. The median income of a full-time male employee is lower than it was 40 years ago. Wages of male high school graduates have plummeted by some 19%. To stay above water, many Americans borrowed from banks at usurious interest rates. In 2005, President George W. Bush’s administration made it far more difficult for households to declare bankruptcy and write off debt. Then came the financial crisis, which cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes. When unemployment insurance, designed for short-term bouts of joblessness in a full-employment world, ran out, they were left to fend for themselves, with no safety net (beyond food stamps), while the government bailed out the banks that had caused the crisis.

From here


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