Closing the wealth gap is a matter of life and death.
Poverty is the fourth leading cause of death in the country, killing an estimated 183,000 Americans ages 15 and older in 2019, according to new findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday.
“Poverty kills as much as dementia, accidents, strokes, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Poverty quietly killed 10 times more people than all homicides in 2019. And yet firearm homicides and suicides get far more attention,” said study lead author David Brady, a professor of public policy. at the University of California, Riverside.
Poverty now ranks just behind heart disease, cancer and smoking, earning it the nickname of the “silent killer” since such a statistic has historically been difficult to pin down.
While poverty, defined as earning less than 50% of the US median income, has generally been linked to shorter life expectancy, this study is one of the first to quantify the number of deaths directly attributable to poverty, which implies not only hunger and malnutrition. but also lack of access to doctors and life-saving medicines, as well as a greater likelihood of negative environmental factors and exposures that put pressure on your health.
“If we had less poverty, there would be much better health and well-being, people could work more and they could be more productive,” Brady urged. “All of those are benefits of investing in people through social policies.”
Meanwhile, suicide, firearms, homicide, obesity, diabetes and drug overdoses led to a significant number of deaths in 2019, but all were found to be less fatal than poverty.
More specifically, the study further revealed that people living in poverty had a similar survival rate until they reached their 40s, when they begin to die at significantly higher rates than their wealthier contemporaries.
However, survival rates began to converge again as people reached their 70s.
The numbers are believed to be a “conservative” estimate, the researchers said, noting that their findings consisted of data recorded just before the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw death rates rise across all demographic groups and it put a strain on our economy, health care systems, and other life-saving resources.
“Everything suggests that poverty-related mortality got much worse during COVID,” Brady told The Post. “Poverty was clearly an exacerbating factor in COVID-related death. So, I would expect mortality associated with poverty to increase considerably after 2019.”
Previous studies have shown that people living in poverty are at higher risk of problems such as mental illness, chronic disease, higher mortality, and shorter life expectancy.
Unfortunately, the US poverty rate rose to 11.4% (about 37.2 million people) in 2020 after five straight years of decline.
This also comes as the US lags behind most wealthy nations in terms of life expectancy.