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Americans Getting Sicker, Dumber and Dying Sooner

December 5, 2017

A new report says that American life expectancy has declined. Worse still is the same report’s news that the cause of this decline are increases in eight of the 10 leading causes of death.

The report is part of the Society of Actuaries’ annual update of its mortality improvement scale. It came out in October.

According to the update, between the years of 2014 and 2015, the life expectancy for 65-year-old men dropped from 85.8 to 85.6 years. For the same period, the life expectancy of 65-year-old women dropped from 87.8 to 87.6 years. This year-over-year increase in mortality rate is the first since 10 years earlier, in 2005.

Life expectancy at birth has also dropped, according to the study. The projections now suggest that someone born in 2015 will only live to 78.8 years. That compares to 78.9 years in 2014. It is the first such decline since 1993, when the AIDS epidemic was at its peak.

What is behind this decline in life expectancy are increases in eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. These top 10 include:

  1. heart disease
  2. cancer
  3. chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD)
  4. unintentional injuries
  5. stroke
  6. Alzheimer’s disease
  7. diabetes mellitus
  8. influenza and pneumonia
  9. nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis
  10. suicide

Middle-aged Americans are also getting dumber. Those measured at a point 10 years away from collecting their first Social Security retirement benefits had poorer mental skills, including memory and thinking capacity, and at least one limitation for conducting some basic living task, such as buying food, washing, getting dressed, taking medications or even just getting out of bed. The percentage of people limited in this way is expected to surge from 8.8% of those who retired at 65 to 12.5% of those aged 56 to 57, who are still 10 years away from retirement.

A sad truth of the matter is that the retirement age was raised to 67 for those born in 1960 and later, according to a law passed in 1983. The logic was that seniors were living longer and healthier lives. According to these new studies – and building on past ones – the opposite is clearly the case.

Another consideration factoring into the changing life expectancies is related to inequality among seniors. According to a report published in October by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the gap between wealthy and low-income seniors is wider in the United States than in 33 of the 35 OECD member nations. (The only places where the gap is worse still are Mexico and Chile.) With that wealth gap, while the wealthy in America live longer and in comfort, the poor have to work more years at tougher jobs, suffer more with pain and ill health in their later years and die younger.

The two reports also suggest that this lowering of life expectancy, especially for poorer seniors, will continue.

One reason for this is that low-wage workers often get stuck in jobs that are much tougher on them physically or they have no jobs at all and suffer even worse. In McDowell County, West Virginia, part of the region most affected by the depressed economy, for example, male life expectancy is only 63.9 years – just above that of Haiti, Ghana and even Papua New Guinea. Chronic poverty, ill health, suicide and drug/ alcohol abuse are cited as common causes.

A second reason is that as the U.S. economy continues to evolve, it does so often at the expense of automating many jobs that were once performed by people. That, in turn, exacerbates the senior wage/ wealth divide.

A third reason is that the current tax structures further support making the rich even richer and the poor even poorer, and this is about to get much worse, with an estimated $1.7 trillion in wealth transferred to the richest under Trump’s new tax bill.

A fourth reason – only projected at this point – is that as the health-care plans being proposed by the Trump administration effectively gut support for the poorest and most in need, those people will be stuck suffering and without proper treatment for far longer than ever before. Many more will die prematurely.

Only a radical restructuring of the tax codes to begin favoring the middle-class and poor for real (rather than just in the protestations of the current Republican Congress and White House) plus a completely new concept of how universal health care will be supported across the country could even begin to make a difference in all of this.

This won’t happen unless Americans wake up and realize that unbridled capitalism is the enemy of democracy, not a complementary aspect. The only thing that can dislodge the now-deeply-embedded parasitic oligarchy is radical and massive change on a cultural, political, social and economic level.