Up until 1979, we could expect to live approximately 1.5 years longer than a resident of one of a group of 35 wealthy, predominantly Western nations. By 2015, that gap reversed. And in 2016, our life expectancy dropped for a second year in a row, a statistical event that hasn’t happened since the early 1990’s.
We remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world. So what’s going on?
- While our healthcare system provides generally good care, access to it is a problem. We are the only one in that group of 35 that does not have some sort of universal health-care coverage.
- Violence is having an impact on our life expectancy. We are more likely to be murdered than people in nearly any other of the rich nations. Easy access to guns seems to be the influencing factor here.
- We stand out in terms of our stinginess for our social safety net relative to other rich countries.
- Individual factors should as tobacco use, violence, and disease shorten our lifespans.
However, the biggest differences are found in non-medical determinants resulting from dramatic differences in public policies.
- We start our children later in school than other rich countries.
- We spend far less public money on early childhood education and care than almost any other wealthy country.
- We are the only high income country in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave, sick leave, and vacation time.
- Our unemployment benefits are less generous than in most of the other rich countries.
- Housing assistance is minimal relative to other wealthy nations.
- We have the highest income inequality among the other rich countries since our tax code is more generous to the wealthy than the other tax systems.
If these and other social welfare factors were brought up to the average of the other wealthy countries, it would add almost 4 years to our life expectancy. We die earlier, due in part, to a welfare state disadvantage. We have made deliberate policy choices: rejecting single-payer health care, cutting taxes for the rich, shunning universal basic income, and abandoning universal child care.
These choices increasingly set us apart and create an ever-widening gap from the rest of the wealthy world.
What do you think?