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New Study Shows What We’ve Known All Along: Republican Policies Are (Literally) Killing Us



While the average life expectancy for Americans has been rising for years now, not everyone is benefiting equally. According to a new analysis from the Brookings Institute, wealthy people are enjoying longer lifespans than lower income American — and the gap is only getting wider.

By the age of fifty-five, the average American man in the wealthiest 10 percent of the country can expect to live for another 35 years. But the average 55 year-old man in the poorest 10 percent only has about 24 years left. And for women, the disparity is even greater, as low-income women’s life expectancy has been declining in recent years:

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“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.

While these findings are disheartening, they aren’t terribly surprising. For years, researchers have known that poverty is associated with a wide range of negative consequences. If you are poor, you are more likely to develop illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, more likely to become injured, more likely to become disabled, and more likely to die of preventable causes. You are less likely to have access to high-quality medical care — or any medical care at all — and less likely to have access to preventive services. People living in poverty are also more likely to live in communities with hazardous outdoor and indoor air pollution, and to work in an unhealthy or unsafe workplace with hazardous chemical or physical exposures. 

Not only does poverty adversely affect health, but poor health also increases the probability that a person will be poor. In the absence of adequate safety nets, people who are chronically ill or disabled from an injury are likely to become poor or even poorer. Medical expenses have been the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, even among individuals who thought they had adequate health insurance.

The Brooking’s report doesn’t explore the possible causes of the growing life-expectancy gap. But the authors do highlight one important implication—that the change skews Social Security benefits away from lower earners and toward the more affluent.

There is overwhelming evidence that failing to enact policies to help lift Americans out of poverty will very literally shorten their lifespans — at the same time as conservative lawmakers attempt to raise the age to qualify for Medicare or Social Security benefits, based on the erroneous assumption that everyone is living longer. The Brookings data suggests that for most women, and for men in the bottom 10% of earners, the Social Security eligibility age is rising faster than life expectancies—which means that, on average, members of those groups will have fewer years to collect benefits.

And while the Affordable Care Act was designed to address some of these problems by providing health insurance options for low-income Americans, the Supreme Court’s decision that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion undermined the plan to expand coverage. Over 20 Republican governors have refused to implement the expansion in their states, leaving millions of the poorest Americans without access to any affordable health insurance options. Those left out of the expansion are disproportionately poorer and sicker than the residents in other states, so they stand the most to lose from the GOP’s antipathy to the health care law. And the consequences are severe: A recent study by Harvard researchers found that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid.

Republicans warned us about “death panels” — they just never mentioned that they would the ones sitting on those panels.


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