Poverty is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States

Back in February, I wrote a post describing how the US government kills people with policy to benefit the capitalist class. It’s a good post, and you should check it out if you haven’t. The basic premise, for those who just want a refresher, is that the government actively creates and maintains poverty, as a way of keeping the population desperate enough to take any job they can get, and to undermine any efforts at using organized labor power to actually push through leftist policies. The USian aristocracy was traumatized by the New Deal, and they’ve spent the generations since then reshaping society to prevent the workers from rising up like that ever again.

I would imagine, however, that some folks who’re a bit more conservative than me might find my claim – that the government kills for capital – to be a bit sensationalistic. They might accept that something like raising interest rates will cause people to lose their jobs, but this is America, right? Surely people aren’t actually dying from poverty! Right?

Unfortunately not.

A University of California, Riverside, (UCR) paper published Monday, April 17, in the Journal of the American Medical Association associated poverty with an estimated 183,000 deaths in the United States in 2019 among people 15 years and older.

This estimate is considered conservative because the data is from the year just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused spikes in deaths worldwide and continues to take its toll.

The analysis found that only heart disease, cancer, and smoking were associated with a greater number of deaths than poverty. Obesity, diabetes, drug overdoses, suicides, firearms, and homicides, among other common causes of death, were less lethal than poverty.

“Poverty kills as much as dementia, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes,” said David Brady, the study’s lead author and a UCR professor of public policy. “Poverty silently killed 10 times as many people as all the homicides in 2019. And yet, homicide firearms and suicide get vastly more attention.”

Another finding is that people living in poverty – those with incomes less than 50% of the U.S. median income — have roughly the same survival rates until they hit their 40s, after which they die at significantly higher rates than people with more adequate incomes and resources.

The analysis estimated the number of poverty deaths by analyzing income data kept by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and death data from household surveys from the Cross-National Equivalent File. Deaths reported in surveys were validated in the National Death Index, a database kept by the National Center for Health Statistics, which tracks deaths and their causes in the U.S..

Their findings have major policy implications, the researchers say.

“Because certain ethnic and racial minority groups are far more likely to be in poverty, our estimates can improve understanding of ethnic and racial inequalities in life expectancy,” the paper reads.

Additionally, the study shows that poverty should get more attention from policymakers, said Brady, the director of UCR’s Blum Initiative on Global and Regional Poverty.

Beyond the emotional suffering of surviving family members and friends, deaths are associated with a great economic cost. Experts agree that a death is expensive for a family, community and government, Brady said.

“If we had less poverty, there’d be a lot better health and well-being, people could work more, and they could be more productive,” Brady said. “All of those are benefits of investing in people through social policies.”

Poverty, in addition to making many things more expensive, acts to turn difficult or dangerous situations into potentially lethal ones. The US is by far the worst among the wealthy nations in this regard, and it makes for a good example – an emergency room will treat an emergency, but it won’t provide cancer treatment over a period of months, or screening for a non-emergency that might warn someone of a growing problem. Poverty also pushes people into accepting more dangerous jobs, to avoid the even greater danger of homelessness. On top of all of that (and partly because of all of that), poverty is extremely stressful, and it’s pretty clear by now that stress is, itself, a serious health risk:

People with low incomes and racial/ethnic minority populations experience greater levels of stress than their more affluent, white counterparts, which can lead to significant disparities in both mental and physical health that ultimately affect life expectancy, according to a report from the American Psychological Association.

“Good health is not equally distributed. Socio-economic status, race and ethnicity affect health status and are associated with substantial disparities in health outcomes across the lifespan,” said Elizabeth Brondolo, PhD, chair of an APA working group that wrote the report. “And stress is one of the top 10 social determinants of health inequities.”

Stress-related illnesses and injuries are estimated to cost the United States more than $300 billion per year from accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, lowered productivity and direct medical, legal and insurance costs, according to the report.

People with lower incomes report more severe (but not more frequent) stress and having had more traumatic events in their childhood, said the report. African-Americans and U.S.-born Hispanics also report more stress than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, stemming in part from exposure to discrimination and a tendency to experience more violent traumatic events.

And all that stress can lead to mental and physical health problems.

“Stress affects how we perceive and react to the outside world,” Brondolo said. “Low socio-economic status has been associated with negative thinking about oneself and the outside world, including low self-esteem, distrust of the intentions of others and the perceptions that the world is a threatening place and life has little meaning. Stress is also known to contribute to depression.”

Stress may also play a role in physical health disparities by affecting behavior. High levels of stress have been consistently associated with a wide variety of negative health behaviors, including smoking, drinking, drug use and physical inactivity. These behaviors and their outcomes (e.g., obesity) are closely linked to the onset and course of many diseases, including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline later in life, according to the report.

A 2016 analysis indicated that men whose income is in the top 1 percent live almost 15 years longer than those in the bottom 1 percent, according to the report. For women, that difference is almost 10 years.

And this report is about the United States, a country that unequivocally has the resources to end poverty altogether. This system is designed, on purpose to make your life shorter, for the convenience of the rich.

Obviously, my solution for this is to organize both at the community and workplace level, but beyond that, I hope this encourages you to be gentler with yourself, and with those around you. That brighter future we want is still possible, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and the whole point of our struggle is that people deserve better lives. That includes you, dear reader. You deserve a good life, with stability, comfort, and real potential for joy, because you are human.

If you want me to be more healthy and less poor, you can sign up at patreon.com/oceanoxia, to toss a few coins in my cap. Even small contributions help, especially given the fact that my immigration status bars me from conventional employment. If you can’t, consider sharing my work around, to help me reach a wider audience. Thanks for reading!

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