Specifically, as the New York Times reported last week, white women without high school diplomas lost a full five years of their lives between 1990 and 2008, while their male counterparts lost three years.
The New York Times adds that the U.S. does not fare well in international life expectancy rankings. American women fell from 14th place in 1985 to 41st place in 2010 in overall rankings, but among developed countries, they dropped to last place, according to the Human Mortality Database.
Experts say that such declines in life expectancy in developed countries are exceedingly rare.
From the New York Times:
The five-year decline for white women rivals the catastrophic seven-year drop for Russian men in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity in London.
This is alarming news for a country that’s supposed to be a world leader.
The researchers are apparently puzzled by this startling decrease in life expectancy amongst poor white people and are grasping for an explanation. They throw out a few suggestions: lack of health insurance, too much smoking, too much obesity due to poor food choices, too many drug overdoses.
The tone of the Times article is deplorable: it seems to imply that poor whites are to blame if they die young, that they must be doing something wrong. Oh yes, they are smoking too much, eating too much of the wrong foods, and overdosing on prescription drugs. If only they wouldn’t engage in these risky behaviors, they would live longer.
I think a more compassionate response is in order here. Let’s look at what’s really going on.
As Care2′s Jessica Pieklo reported here, numbers released from the Census Bureau reveal that in 2010 the poverty rate spiked to 15.1 percent in the U.S., the highest level since 1993, median household income declined and the number of people without health insurance soared.
The National Women’s Law Center reports that there are now over 17 million women living in poverty, including more than 7.5 million in extreme poverty, with an income below half of the federal poverty line.
So that’s one part of the picture. Furthermore, as inequality.org points out:
Between 1979 and 2009, the top 5 percent of American families saw their real incomes increase 72.7 percent, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth saw a decrease in real income of 7.4 percent.
Thus this group, whites without a high school diploma, have less access to health care than before, and they have less money than ever before.
It is shocking and depressing to read of the decrease in life expectancy but, in light of the growing inequalities in our society, perhaps it is not so surprising. The gap between rich and poor continues to expand in the U.S., and we are not addressing the problem.
Poverty and income inequality have barely figured in the upcoming elections. Isn’t it time that Democrats and Republicans started to address this serious issue? Let’s hope the startling information contained in this report will make somebody sit up and take notice.
What do you think? Are you shocked by these findings?
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