Monday, 24 September 2012

The Rich Get Rich and the Poor Get Poorer: Life Expectancy in the US for Less Educated Whites Drops

While Mitt Romney ruminates about the 47 per cent who don't pay taxes, The New York Times has a startling story about how life expectancy among less educated  whites has dropped in recent years.  White women with a high school diploma, the group hardest hit,  live five years less on average than they did in 1990.

"The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance, " Sabrina Tavernise writes.

"The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008, said S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead investigator on the study, published last month in Health Affairs. By 2008, life expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had surpassed that of white women of the same education level, the study found."

The truly troubling thing about the story is that it is not based on one study, but a handful of them, all of which found greater health problems and higher early mortality among the poor, particularly whites.  The declines  rival those found among Russian men in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, where, please note, the health care system struggled to meet the demand for care.

The story speculates that women are particularly hard hit in the US because they are the parents primarily responsible for children when child care is expensive and hard to find, and the uneducated must frequently settle for poorly-paying jobs with inflexible hours.

Watching how Elin and Emmanuel juggle their schedules to make sure the Jeanne gets good care, I can see what stresses single parents must have in the US where there is nothing like $7 a day, state-approved day care.  And yet folks like Mitt Romney doubt that the value of a safety net and deprecate the 47 per cent who don't pay income taxes (but do of course pay sales tax and, frequently, pay role taxes.)

Who took care of his kids, BTW?  But Anne had a lot of help, and certainly she didn't have to worry about how to pay for it.


lagatta à montréal said...

I read the article, and still fail to understand why this loss in life expectancy has had a greater impact on White women with low schooling with respect to Black and "Hispanic" counterparts. The women of colour (the Black women and the "visible" among the Hispanic women) suffer the same lack of health care, bad jobs, insecurity and lack of access to nutritious, affordable food, and also the impact of racism and discrimination (beyond the classist and sexist discrimination all these women face).

Any ideas?

Mary Soderstrom said...

It wasn't mentioned in the article, but I remember reading some time ago that relatively low infant mortality rates among Hispanics might be do to the social network still operating in those communities. Could be something similar among Black women. Certainly uneducated rural white women may well be more isolated than uneducated urban Hispanics or Blacks.