Annie Lowrey in The New York Times today:
Fairfax is a place of the haves, and McDowell of the have-nots. Just outside of Washington, fat government contracts and a growing technology sector buoy the median household income in Fairfax County up to $107,000, one of the highest in the nation. McDowell, with the decline of coal, has little in the way of industry. Unemployment is high. Drug abuse is rampant. Median household income is about one-fifth that of Fairfax.
One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.
There have long been stark economic differences between Fairfax County and McDowell. But as their fortunes have diverged even further over the past generation, their life expectancies have diverged, too. In McDowell, women’s life expectancy has actually fallen by two years since 1985; it grew five years in Fairfax. [Links in the original]
Lowrey is careful to note that the causal connection between poverty and longevity (or its absence) is hard to establish, and the data are both incomplete and fraught with co- and confounding factors. But such caution does not in the end distract her from the basic point of her reporting:
It is hard to prove causality with the available information. County-level data is the most detailed available, but it is not perfect. People move, and that is a confounding factor. McDowell’s population has dropped by more than half since the late 1970s, whereas Fairfax’s has roughly doubled. Perhaps more educated and healthier people have been relocating from places like McDowell to places like Fairfax. In that case, life expectancy would not have changed; how Americans arrange themselves geographically would have.
“These things are not nearly as clear as they seem, or as clear as epidemiologists seem to think,” said Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton.
Further, there is nothing to suggest that, for a given individual, getting a raise in pay or moving between counties would mean outliving her peers.
“The statistical term is the ecological fallacy,” Mr. Kindig said. “We can’t apply aggregate data to an individual, and that’s underappreciated when you’re looking at these numbers.” But, “having said that, I still think that the averages and the variation across counties tells us a lot,” he added. “We don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.”
Despite the statistical murk, many epidemiologists, economists and other researchers say that rising income inequality may be playing into the rising disparity in health and longevity. “We can’t say that there is no effect, just because we don’t have clear methods to test the effect,” said Hui Zheng, a sociologist at Ohio State University…
Mr. Zheng has also posited that inequality, by socially disenfranchising certain groups and making them distrustful of public systems, may have a long-range effect on health.
To some extent, the broad expansion of health insurance to low-income communities, as called for under Obamacare, may help to mitigate this stark divide, experts say. And it is encouraging that both Republicans and Democrats have recently elevated the issues of poverty, economic mobility and inequality, But the contrast between McDowell and Fairfax shows just how deeply entrenched these trends are, with consequences reaching all the way from people’s pocketbooks to their graves.
I’ll mostly pass over Lowrey’s seeming willingness to take as hopeful recent Republican rhetoric on poverty absent any policy proposals that would do anything about it, whilst continuing to propose, inter alia, the destruction of Obamacare, the one program she cites as having the potential to help. This kind of both-sides-ism seems to be an ineradicable MSM pathology.
What matters much more is the basic point to draw from the evidence within Lowrey’s piece: poverty kills — or perhaps better, wealth saves. Increases in inequality correlate with an increasing gap between rich and poor on the most basic of measures, how long we all get to enjoy the pursuits of life, liberty and happiness. Policies that drive such inequality, or do nothing to mitigate, are implicated in those lost years, in deaths before time. Those policies are the current program of the Republican Party.
Literally: Vote like your live depends on it.
Image: Albrecht Dürer, The Death of Crescentia Pirckheimer, 1504.