Bored LIFE Money WTF

The Rich Are Literally Sucking The Poor’s Life Away


The Rich Are Literally Sucking The Poor’s Life Away


You know that Matt Damon space movie where the rich live forever on Jodie Foster’s beautiful lesbian planet while everyone else is stuck toiling in the plutonium mines on a pollution-ravaged Earth until they die at, like, 35? Turns out it wasn’t just a wacky dystopia, but a true reflection of The Way Things Are. What else could you conclude from the fact that the top 1% (income-wise) of American men live an average of 15 years longer than the bottom 1%?

This depressing statistic comes from a wide ranging study published Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association titled “The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014.” For this study, researchers examined some 1.4 billion tax records taken from 1999 to 2014 against mortality data from the Social Security Administration’s death records. In addition to the depressing “15 years” stat, they found the richest 1% of women live 10 years longer than the poorest 1%, and that the rich have gained several years of life expectancy since 2001 while the poor have not. This means that the life expectancy gap between rich and poor is widening and will likely continue to widen, should income inequality continue on its current upward trajectory.

And this chart doesn’t even take into account the amount of “income” the wealthy are hiding in offshore companies and tax havens, or the fact that income from a wage is taxed more heavily than income from, say, capital gains.

Image not available.

The New York Times posits that if there’s any sort of silver lining to this cloud, it’s that life expectancy for the poor varies greatly over geographical areas. (The rich live equally long no matter where they are.) Contrary to what you might think, life expectancy is not strongly correlated with access to healthcare or Medicare spending rate. It is, however, linked to lifestyle factors that vary greatly between the rich and the poor: Smoking, obesity, exercise, drug abuse, stress levels, et cetera. This led the Times to conclude:

But the fact that some places have increased the life span of their poorest residents suggests that improving public health doesn’t require first fixing the broader, multidecade problem of income inequality. Small-scale, local policies to help the poor adopt and maintain healthier habits may succeed in extending their lives, regardless of what happens with trends in income inequality.

Do you hear that, poors? You don’t need a national health service. You just need to quit smoking and exercise more. In the absence of social democracy, we must fall back on the neoliberal fantasy of “personal responsibility” that places the blame on the poor and absolves that old vampire capital of sucking the life from its subjects.

But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. The study also found that life expectancy is correlated with government spending on social services. On a semi-related note, it found New York to be one of the healthiest cities for poor people to live in, despite its massive income inequality:

Image not available.


New York stood out in the data as one of the very best places for life expectancy among the poor. It also stood out for outperforming the country in nearly every factor that the researchers found to be linked with high longevity. New York is a city with many immigrants and college graduates. It spends a lot on social services, including public health. And it has lower rates of smoking and obesity than most places in the country.

“You want to think about this problem at a more local level than you might have before,” said Raj Chetty, a Stanford economist who is the study’s lead author.

But is the local government of New York really responsible for its poorest citizens’ increased health in their golden years?

Maybe a little, but only in the most ethically questionable of ways. A separate Times article name-checks nanny state policies like heavy taxes on cigarettes and the trans fat ban as reasons why the poor in New York are healthier. Also: Its emphasis on public transit. (The top photo shows a person jogging up the subway steps.) I imagine it also does wonders for your resting heart rate when you can’t afford a MetroCard and have to walk everywhere.

Then there are the factors directly correlated to socioeconomic class, rather than policy (i.e. most of them). That New York has a large proportion of college graduates living in poverty just means it’s getting a bump from people who grew up with money and have retained some of their habits despite being downwardly mobile. Let’s see how many generations that lasts. There’s also the notion set forth by this article that the presence of the super-rich creates a nice, broad tax base from which to pay for crucial social services. But what made the 1% possible in the first place, and what made everyone else so broke? For the i-bankers of New York to think they’re helping out the bottom via (still far too low) taxes is like stealing something from someone, then acting like you’re doing that person a favor by giving it back. Why not cut out the middle man?

Image not available.

As for the remaining factor, namely the tendency of immigrants to eat less garbage than their American counterparts, New York City deserves zero credit for that.

In the end, this study just shows what we already know: That “the broader, multi-decade problem of income inequality” indeed determines people’s relative lifespans, with slight regional variations where the state bullies people into living healthier, where the state is able to impose any taxes on the rich at all, or where immigrants happen to bring a more salubrious culture with them. You cannot tackle life expectancy in any humane way without first tackling income inequality.

I will close with a depressing idea that the Times failed to posit: Maybe the poor are dying sooner because the oligarchy has sapped them of their will to live. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard dark talk from destitute friends wondering how they’re going to support themselves for 40 — or, ugh, 50 — more years when the money in their field is quickly drying up and full-time gigs are growing more mythical by the day. With poor job prospects and nonexistent pensions, it’s possible the elderly poor succumb to illnesses more readily than the folks who get to live out their days in comfy assisted living facilities for purely practical reasons.

Perhaps it’s disingenuous for neoliberals to view longevity as an inherent good as they fall over each other to engineer ways people can work at Walmart for even longer than they do now. If you’re not going to do shit to change people’s underlying material conditions, maybe the least you can do is let them die in peace.


One reply on “The Rich Are Literally Sucking The Poor’s Life Away”

Quality of life is more important than longevity. The poor get neither.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Boobs - Less Politics ​​

And Now... A Few Links From Our Sponsors