Poor And White? Your Life Expectancy Just Shrank By 4 Years

Poor white Americans are seeing a decrease in their life expectancy, according to a report published last month in Health Affairs.

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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US Poverty Rates Soar. Can We Tax The Rich Now?

1 In 5 American Children Now Live In Poverty


Photo Credit: thinkstock


Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Big corporations who think they should get personhood and make as much money as they want is the problem. When we come back to a free market here in our own country, we will see the situation improve.

Stanley Rampersad
Stanley Balgobin6 years ago

The USA is a Capitalist country. The rock premise of Capitalism is exploitation. Person over person, group over group, society divided by profit, control, power. This is the net result of the capital goal. The American workers are one of the most exploited group in the developed nations.They lag behind Europe in wages, benefits, and health care. When Obama wins in November I hope he shoves it to the GOP and gives rights to them 99% and raise the taxes on the super wealthy to 91% as it as in the 1950's. I hope he jails job outsourcers, have the Bush era war, criminals brought to justice, increases social security by 10% annually, raises the minimum wage to $20/hr places a maximum income to $100,000/yr by law. Power to the people, this is supposed to be a democracy, not a Corpocracy.

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

Not surprised. America needs to start taking care of it's own people instead of sending so much of our money to other countries.

Rudolf Affolter
Past Member 6 years ago

Not surprised - because I am well aware of these issues - but disgusted. How can people go poor in the richest country on the planet? It is also, shamefully, the planet with the greatest disparity of income and wealth. Where you need to be a millionaire to run for the Presidency. Shameful.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

If Willimantic could get a big boarding house to house and feed all the homeless, all the drunks, and all the drug addicts, now in the town, it would help the town as a whole, improving property values. Willimantic is laughed at for having so many drug addicts on its streets. Some complain that Willimantic's soup kitchen and homeless shelter (2 one for single moms with children and one for adults without children) attract homeless, drunks, and drug addicts. True, but if you could get them off the streets, they would be less of a problem. Now, the single homeless have no place to get in out of the weather most of the afternoon and early evening--keeping the single homeless shelter open in the afternoon when the soup kitchen is closed would cost two much because it is so over-crowded that it really would need a lot of supervision to keep the guests from beating up on each other.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K6 years ago

Experts claim what nonsense they are just drips under pressure as the word comes from latin. I never got a diploma or even passed maths yet I had an outstanding career and even had engineers reporting to me for approval of their projects hahaha My Life expectancy is going to what I chose when i came here as a spiritual being to have a human experience so it will be my choice when I leave but of course if I fail to learn the lessons that arise before me then well I will just stay on the birth death cycle till I wake up. hmmmm I do not believe i will be coming back after this time.

Leia P.
Leia P.6 years ago


Dawn C.

Female life expectancy is greater than men's. Devaluation is not enjoyable, nor suffering, but who wants to live past 85 as an invalid?

Lin M
Lin M6 years ago

I can't beleive it is the un educated because some of those people have ended up with fortunes.Only God knows how many years one has. Man does not have the facts right, ever.

Brian M.
Past Member 6 years ago

The title is ludicrous. "Poor And White? Your Life Expectancy Just Shrank By 4 Years." Guess what? Your life is four years shorter and still several years longer than the life span for most people of colour in the United States.