The Declining American Life Expectancy

What is more important in life than how much you actually get of it? As the old adage goes, ‘well at least you have your health’. Well it appears Americans are losing that as well.

Life expectancy is the crucial measurement of the health of a population. It is symbolic and also the summation of all other factors that relate to the overall quality of life. Over the last hundred years, life expectancies in high income nations have increased tremendously. While life expectancies across the globe continue to increase, a new study is showing that, for Americans living in the United States, not only has that trend stagnated, but life expectancies are in decline. While every other high-income nation has experienced steady increases in life expectancy, the United States has not only stagnated, but between the years 2014-2016 life expectancies have actually declined.

Mortality under the age of 50 accounts for much of this decline and is also the biggest reason why the United States ranks among the lowest of all high-income countries in life expectancy. The majority of these under age 50 deaths are caused by unintentional and treatable causes such as, drug overdoses, noncommunicable diseases, pregnancy complications, birth trauma and homicide. What that means is, these causes are preventable and we are not doing enough about it.

The United States, the wealthiest country in the world, continues to fall further and further behind in a variety of international rankings. The United States has ranked near the bottom of high income countries in life expectancy since 1990. The decline in the already low life expectancy of Americans is another component of the trend that many already feel. That America overall is in decline. 

Acknowledgement of this trend was no doubt a factor in the 2016 election. In the same year that Americans' life expectancies had declined, Hillary Clinton countered Bernie Sanders left-wing populism and Donald Trump’s nationalist MAGA campaign with ‘America is ALREADY great’. The problem with Hillary's message was that most of middle class America wasn’t feeling that great. Besides the declining life expectancies, working class Americans living in the post-recession economy had not financially recovered. On top of that, they had been feeling the effects of 30 years of outsourcing, globalization, high income tax cuts, exploding healthcare costs, ballooning education costs, deindustrialization and the financialization of everything. Nearly 40% of Americans were and still are living paycheck to paycheck and nearly half are still unable to afford a $400 emergency expense.

As Americans, our life expectancies are in decline. What other measurement could possibly reflect the need to change our course more than that? 


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