“It’s dramatic.” Where you live in America could mean a lifespan difference of 20 years

Last week a landmark study in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed county to county health data in all 50 states over a recent 34-year period. Researchers found average life expectancies varied as much as 20.1 years depending on the county where people live.

“What we found is that the gap is enormous,” one of the study’s lead researchers told NPR.

The data mirrors similar findings reported here in St. Louis through For the Sake of All, where life spans can differ by as much as 18 years in some of the region’s wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods. Read our Discussion Guide on Economic Opportunity.

In the national study, in wealthy regions with highly educated populations, such as Summit County, Colorado and Marin County, California, people lived the longest, about 87 years. In areas of high poverty and low levels of education residents had much shorter lifespans, about 67 years.

The study further suggested lifespan inequality in America is increasing between rich and poor. Between 1980 and 2014 the gap between the highest and lowest life spans increased by about two years. Researchers expect those gaps to continue to widen.

Here are the links to NPR and CNN’s coverage of the study and suspected reasons why.

Two new and notable books on wealth inequality

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City 1st Edition
by Matthew Desmond
available at Amazon.com


From Amazon.com: In Evicted, Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Hailed as “wrenching and revelatory” (The Nation), “vivid and unsettling” (New York Review of Books), Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of 21st-century America’s most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Dr. Desmond delivered the keynote address at the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing & Opportunity Council’s recent Fair Housing Conference, held on Thursday, April 6, 2016 at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Learn more about the conference.


The Vanishing Middle Class, Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy
By Peter Temin
available at The MIT Press

From The MIT Press: The United States is becoming a nation of rich and poor, with few families in the middle. In this book, MIT economist Peter Temin offers an illuminating way to look at the vanishing middle class. Temin argues that American history and politics, particularly slavery and its aftermath, play an important part in the widening gap between rich and poor. Temin employs a well-known, simple model of a dual economy to examine the dynamics of the rich/poor divide in America, and outlines ways to work toward greater equality so that America will no longer have one economy for the rich and one for the poor.

Many poorer Americans live in conditions resembling those of a developing country—substandard education, dilapidated housing, and few stable employment opportunities. And although almost half of black Americans are poor, most poor people are not black. Conservative white politicians still appeal to the racism of poor white voters to get support for policies that harm low-income people as a whole, casting recipients of social programs as the Other—black, Latino, not like “us.” Politicians also use mass incarceration as a tool to keep black and Latino Americans from participating fully in society. Money goes to a vast entrenched prison system rather than to education. In the dual justice system, the rich pay fines and the poor go to jail.