Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., are only 350 miles apart. Suburban Fairfax County’s median family income of $107,000 is one of the highest in the United States, five times more than in rural McDowell County. That stark difference has life and death consequences. Residents of the West Virginia county die years younger. The link between income and longevity was examined at a Senate hearing last Nov. 20, and on Sunday by The New York Times. “Poverty is a thief,” said Michael Reisch of the University of Maryland in testimony before Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Senate subcommittee on health and aging. “Poverty not only diminishes a person’s life chances, it steals years from one’s life.”
Sanders’ subcommittee examined disparities in life expectancy between regions of the United States and even from neighborhood to neighborhood in American cities. “If people don’t have access to health care, if they don’t have access to education, if they don’t have access to jobs and affordable housing then we end up paying not only in terms of human suffering and the shortening of life expectancy but in actual dollars,” Sanders added.
Key findings of a report prepared for the subcommittee:
- Life expectancy for women has declined over the past 20 years in 313 U.S. counties.
- People in the highest income group can expect to live, on average, at least 6.5 years longer than those in the lowest income group.
- Adult men and women who have graduated from college can expect to live at least 5 years longer than people who have not finished high school.
- Almost as many people die from poverty as from lung cancer.
- In 2009, the mortality rate for African American infants was over twice that of white infants.
- As a nation we have 6 million more people living in poverty than we did in 2004.
- Poor adults are twice as likely as affluent adults to have diabetes.