Friday, March 13, 2009

Maggie Mahar -- Health, Education and the Welfare of the Nation

When I read this essay I wanted to cry with frustration.

During the final two decades of the twentieth century you can draw a straight line connecting growing poverty, especially among children, a deteriorating educational system, and poorer health. When the CBO broke down life expectancy statistics by socioeconomic group, it discovered that: “In 1980, life expectancy at birth was 2.8 years more for the highest socioeconomic group than for the lowest. By 2000, that gap had risen to 4.5 years.”

What changed after 1980? A recent study published in PLoS Medicine goes back to the 1960s to compare what happened in the 1960s and 1970s to what happened in the two decades that followed. What the authors discovered is shocking: “ from 1960 to 1980, life expectancy increased everywhere” in the U.S.. But “beginning in the early 1980s the differences in death rates among/across different counties began to increase.” (The study looked at counties because they are the smallest geographic units for which death rates are collected, thus allowing for a precise comparison of subgroups) “The worst-off counties no longer experienced a fall in death rates,” the researchers observed. Instead,“in a substantial number of counties, mortality actually increased, especially for women…”

1980 was the year that a conservative agenda firmly replaced the “War on Poverty” that LBJ had begun in the 1960s. (Not coincidentally, this is also the year that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare disappeared.) For the next 28 years, the trend would continue as corporate welfare and tax cuts for the wealthy replaced programs for the poor and middle-class.

You don't want to know what it says about Alzheimer's.
God, save us from our own ignorance and selfishness as we imagine that poor people prefer poverty to plenty and those at the bottom of the economy simply need to work harder and smarter.

1 comment:

maggiemahar said...

Thanks very much for posting this.

I'm truly hoping that Obama's election marks a turning point, and that we will begin, once again, to pay attention to the poor.