WORK-LIFE BALANCE / JUN. 19, 2015
version 19, draft 19

Income Inequality: Did You Know It’s Making People Sick?

The income gap in the U.S. is the widest of all developed nations. Unfortunately, it continues to get wider between the rich and the poor. We generally understand that living in a poor community comes with all sorts of health risks, such as severe environmental pollution, high crime rate, and excessive junk food stores. Yet a health report, done by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has revealed some scary details about the role that income inequality plays in communities. This is regardless of the average overall income of communities.

More specifically, the report ranks every U.S. county based on numerous health-related factors, including behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption, social issues like crime and unemployment, as well as environmental problems like air pollution. The New York Times provided an analysis of the report findings.

See Also: Rising Income Inequality Linked to 10% Increase in Mortality

Now For The Scary Details

The report analysis indicated income inequality as a major health risk to affected communities. Let me break that down. This means that people who live in areas where a big disparity is present between the well-off and the not-so-well-off are less healthy. For example, individuals within unequal communities were more likely to die before age 75 than individuals living in more equal communities. This was the case even though the income level of the community members was practically the same.

Although all this misfortune is rather depressing, it is very understandable, especially as someone living in the U.S., like myself, hear story after story about how the poor are being screwed over due to  the money-hungry tactics of the wealthy.

In addition, the Great Recession of 2007 caused many people to fall from middle-class grace and become poor. The weakening of the bridge between the rich and the poor, as in the middle-class, has greatly influenced the wide income gap we have. That is why President Barack Obama has put so much emphasis on strengthening the middle-class because it would, in return, decrease the income disparity, as well as allow other benefits.

In reality, economic equality is something we will never fully achieve.

The Inequality Effect

A few reasons are expressed as to the effect(s) income inequality has on those who suffer from it:

  • A community with a large income gap normally has a few very rich people and many poor people. This basically reflects the condition of the entire U.S. nation. As a result, the poor are more likely to experience matters like inadequate healthcare and bad nutrition.
  • There is a chance that the rich will not contribute enough of their wealth to the communities they live in. This can take the form of them sending their children to private schools, traveling outside the community for superb healthcare, and taking advantage of extravagant recreational activities not found in the community. That leaves the rest of the community members to absorb the costs of funding local public schools, hospitals, and other services that are vital to community health.
  • Overall, life just may be more stressful in communities with such a great economic divide. This may extend beyond living in a purely poor community. My reasoning is that people of a similar economic status are more likely to share resources with one another, even while poor. So, there is more support generated between such people, in connection with health.

Unhealthy Counties Vs. Healthy Counties

The unhealthiest counties of the U.S. really struggle more within the areas of general poverty, unemployment, and child poverty, which is to be expected. The poverty rate of the unhealthiest counties was more than twice as high as the healthiest counties. The child poverty rate mirrored the same findings.

As for unemployment, the rate for the unhealthiest counties was 1.5 times greater than in the healthiest counties. On top of all that, the unhealthiest counties tend to have more smokers, teen births, and alcohol-related car accidents.

So, what are the characteristics of the "healthiest" county in each state? All have higher college attendance, fewer preventable hospital stays, and better access to parks and gyms.

In other words, more education + less avoidable hospital visits + more physical exercise = better health.

See Also: ‘Inequality in America’ Featuring the Haters, the Beneficiaries, and the Ridiculous Gwyneth Paltrow

The big question to ask regarding the hard, cold facts is: ‘what can be done to clean up this mess?’ Well, income inequality appears to be a beast not willing to be fully tamed. The issue is so complex to discern, let alone solve. Yet awareness is key to breaking down the overall problem into comprehensible (as well as manageable) pieces.

Check out this Ted Talks video featuring Richard Wilkinson, and hear his insightful words on income inequality:

Does the report surprise you? What are your thoughts on income inequality? Please let us know in the comment section below…

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