While we were considering youth and age over the past couple of days at this blog, the Washington Post published a remarkable story about the difference economic inequality makes in the quality of life and longevity experienced by people at either end of the scale.
To show how this plays out in real life, reporter Michael A. Fletcher has pulled together a variety of statistics for two adjacent Florida counties – prosperous St. Johns, and Putnam where more than 20 percent of the population live below the poverty line.
"Women [in St. Johns County] can expect to live to be nearly 83, four years longer than they did just two decades earlier...”, writes Mr. Fletcher. “Male life expectancy is more than 78 years, six years longer than two decades ago.
"[In Putnam County], incomes and housing values are about half what they are in St. Johns. And life expectancy in Putnam has barely budged since 1989, rising less than a year for women to just over 78.
"Meanwhile, it has crept up by a year and a half for men, who can expect to live to be just over 71, seven years less than the men living a few miles away in St. Johns."
In some parts of the U.S., longevity is actually moving in reverse, reports Fletcher.
“A study published last week in the journal Health Affairs,” he writes, “said that in almost half of the nation’s counties, women younger than 75 are dying at rates higher than before. The counties where women’s life expectancy is declining typically are in the rural South and West, the report said.
“Putnam County shares many of those characteristics. Forests, picturesque lakes and the beautiful St. Johns River, the longest in Florida, dot the area. But amid that rural splendor there are few good jobs and, officials said, little access to medical care.”
One-fifth of Putnam County residents live in poor or fair health – twice the number in St. Johns County, a ratio that closely matches the number of health care providers:
”County health rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show that there is one primary care physician for every 2,623 residents in [Putnam] county. One county east in St. Johns, there are more than double the ratio of family doctors, one for every 1,067.
None of this is surprising and most of it is common sense. Fletcher just tracked down some comparative statistics and presented them in a startling way and good for him.
Income and economic inequality do make the difference between life and death and we all know who's winning. More from the Washington Post:
“'It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out,' [Jeff Feller, chief executive of WellFlorida Council, a state-designated regional health-care nonprofit organization, said. 'You just have to look at the socioeconomic and demographic differences — unemployment, education levels, income between the two counties — to understand what is going on.
“'This is fueled by poor economics and a lack of access to health insurance and health coverage.'
“Those differences are compounded by the resource gap separating the two counties. With a healthy tax base that is recovering from the recession, St. Johns officials are in a better position than those in Putnam to address problems as they arise. When St. Johns officials learned of a change in the infant mortality rate, they quickly joined forces with local nonprofit groups to get information out encouraging prenatal care.”
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) revealed his budget plan yesterday which, if adopted, would further exacerbate the wealth gap. The highest income tax rate would be reduced from 39 percent to 25 percent. According to The New York Times, Ryan's plan also
”...would repeal the health care overhaul of 2009, eliminate the subsidized insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion that make up the core of the law, and turn Medicare into a system of private insurance plans financed by federal vouchers.
“The Republican proposal would also do away with Wall Street regulatory laws...”
Here is how one Washington Post reader interpreted Fletcher's story even before Ryan's budget was announced:
Let me guess: richer people eat better, get better health care, and have more leisure time to relax and exercise. Poorer people struggle to put food on the table, work more than one job, can't afford decent health care and have little time to rest, to exercise or to relax.
“The wealthier folks live longer and the poor work themselves into an early grave. Isn't that what the wealthier folks want though? Let the poor work until they drop and then they won't live long enough to collect social security and medicare.”
I couldn't say it better myself and Ryan just doubled down on the kind of policies that create these differences.
You can read the full Washington Post story here.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: The Way We Are