Monday, April 18, 2016

CLOSING THE GAP - Life Expectancy

"How geography changes life expectancy for America’s poorest" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2016


SUMMARY:  America's poorest citizens have shorter lifespans than wealthier Americans, and new research finds that gap is growing.  But the study also found that the poor who live in affluent and highly educated cities live longer than those who live in other areas.  Judy Woodruff learns more from Raj Chetty of Stanford University.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now, the connections between income, geography, and life expectancy.

It’s a sobering fact that the poorest citizens have shorter life spans than wealthier Americans.  But new research published finds that the gap in life expectancy is growing.  Since 2000, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans can now expect to live an additional three years.  For the very poorest, there’s been almost no change.

And yet research also found that the poorest who live in affluent and highly educated cities live longer than other poor Americans.

Raj Chetty is the co-author, and he’s an economist at Stanford University.

Raj Chetty, welcome to the program.

Why is this gap in life spans getting longer for so many people?

RAJ CHETTY, Stanford University:  Well, Judy, what we’re seeing is that there is a really dramatic increase in life spans for the very highest-income Americans throughout the country.

What’s interesting is that, for the low-income Americans, say in the bottom 20 percent, we find that the story is very heterogeneous across places.  There are some places like Birmingham, Alabama, where the poor are gaining just as much in life expectancy as the rich, but there are other places like Tampa, Florida, where the poor actually losing in terms of life expectancy, where they live shorter lives today than they did in 2000, at the beginning of this millennium.

And so in terms of understanding why we’re seeing this increasing gap, I think the story is not just one at the national level.  It’s one that is going to force us to look at the local level to understand why the trend looks so positive in Birmingham, yet so negative in other places like Tampa.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And are there clues now as to why that is?

RAJ CHETTY:  The places with the highest levels of life expectancy for the poor tend to have better health behaviors, perhaps not surprisingly.  These are places with lower levels of obesity, higher rates of exercise, lower levels of smoking.

They also tend to be cities like New York and San Francisco, more affluent, highly educated, high-cost-of-living cities, where the poor seem to be doing better.  Now, we don’t know exactly why.  One potential hypothesis is that these types of cities invest a lot in public health.  They’re often the first cities to enact things like smoking bans or bans on trans fats, which could end up improving the health of not just the rich, but also the poor.

But that remains to be explored further.

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