Although life expectancy has been rising for Americans as a whole, the people who live in this country aren’t necessary sharing those gains equally. Wealthy people are enjoying longer lifespans than lower income Americans, according to a new analysis from Brookings Institute researchers, and the gap is threatening to get wider.
By the age of 55 years old, the average American man in the richest 10 percent of the county can expect to live another 35 years. But the average man in the poorest 10 percent only has about 24 years left. And the discrepancy is even starker among women, since low-income women’s life expectancy has actually been declining:
“Life expectancy is rising for those at the top of the distribution of individuals ranked by alternative measures of socio-economic status, but it is stagnate or declining for those at the bottom,” the researchers conclude.
It’s not entirely surprising that poverty is an indicator of a shorter life span. Economic insecurity has a long list of negative effects on physical and mental health. People living in poverty are less likely to have access to quality food and clean air, and they’re more likely to struggle to afford the medical care they need.
What’s most concerning is the fact that poverty is worsening, and extreme income inequality continues to widen the gulf between the richest and the poorest sectors of the country. There’s compelling evidence that failing to enact policies to lift struggling Americans out of poverty will very literally shorten their lifespans — at the same time as lawmakers attempt to raise the age to qualify for Medicare or Social Security benefits, based on the erroneous assumption that everyone is living longer.
Although Obamacare originally intended to help tackle this problem by expanding health coverage options for low-income Americans, that policy is falling short. Since the Supreme Court ruled the health law’s Medicaid expansion to be optional, over 20 GOP-led states have declined to implement it, leaving millions of the poorest Americans without any access to affordable insurance whatsoever. These people, who are already disproportionately poorer and sicker than the residents in other states, are the ones who need health coverage the most. It’s not an exaggeration to say that their lives may depend on it. A recent study conducted by Harvard researchers estimated that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid.