Despite advances in medical knowledge over three decades, the life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest Americans has more than doubled for both men and women.
According to the Brookings study, men in the bottom 10 percent of income born in 1920 were expected to live six years less than men in the top 10 percent. But for men born thirty years later, in 1950, that difference had risen to 14 years. The poorest group of women born in 1950 can expect to live 13 years less than their wealthy counterparts, up from 4.7 years for those born 30 years earlier.
Forty-six million Americans live in poverty, including more than one child in five. These adults and children are experiencing a difficult life. They're also more likely to face a premature death. The Social Security Administration found that the life expectancy gap between 60-year-old men in the top and bottom halves of the income ladder grew from 1.2 years in the early 1970s to 5.8 years by 2001.
African-Americans have always fared worse than whites when it comes to longevity. And now an epidemic of so-called "deaths of despair" - including deaths from alcoholism, overdose and suicide - is shortening the life spans of economically struggling middle-aged white Americans with a high school education or less.
Pediatricians across the country are recommending that medical professionals screen for poverty during routine visits. One in five children in America lives in poverty and the science tells us that it really impacts their health and development, in addition to causing lifelong problems. More than 16 million children in the United States live in families with incomes below the poverty level, which is $23,550 a year for a family of four, according to The National Center for Children in Poverty. Poverty is one of the most widespread and persistent health risks facing children today. Research shows that living in poverty can cause severe, lifelong health problems. Poverty has profound negative effects on birthweight, infant mortality, immunization rates, nutrition, language and social development. Children living in poverty also are more likely to be exposed to violence and suffer from injury and chronic illnesses like asthma and obesity.
Dr. David Wood, chairman of East Tennessee State University’s Department of Pediatrics said poverty stresses families because they can’t provide for their children in the way they want to, and it makes children more prone to asthma, chronic diseases and developing unhealthy diets.
“I mean, the best deal in town is the dollar menu at McDonald’s, right?” Wood said. “Unhealthy foods are cheaper than healthy foods, so families struggling to feed their kids are selecting foods that aren’t as healthy, and that leads to nutritional problems like obesity, ironically.” Woods also said poverty impacts children from a relational aspect. “Children not only inherit their parent’s genes, but also inherit the environment their parents raise them in,” Wood said. “It actually affects how their brain develops, how their genes are expressed and, ultimately, it affects whether or not they’re ready for school or can manage their own behavior. These types of things directly impact children in poverty.”