US Tops for Income Inequality and Incarceration, but Near Bottom for National Health
June 19, 2015
Mark Karlin / Tikkun Magazine & TruthOut
Commentary: When it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity, the US has fallen far behind. Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way. The US ranks 26th in infant mortality and 26th for life expectancy, right behind Slovenia. The US leads the world in jailing its citizens. In the US, economic feudalism is creating a dysfunctional society that pits the haves against the have nots.
(May 5, 2015) -- When the New York Times starts posting articles warning of a dystopian future in the United States due to income equality, you know that the alarm bells are starting to sound even in the corporate mass media.
On April 28, the Times posted an analysis by reporter Eduardo Porter in its economy section. Porter bluntly stated:
But when it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity of its people, the United States has fallen far behind. Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.
Porter manages to find a glimmer of hope in the grim statistics about the real state of the union. However, his sliver of optimism is only due to the fact that the deterioration of the nation as a community is so bad that he believes it will ultimately force a political solution.
"The silver lining in these dismal, if abstract, statistics," Porter writes, "is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent it."
That's not a lot to hang your hat on.
Some of the statistics Porter cites are stunningly bleak. Take for instance, this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study from last fall:
In 2010, the US infant mortality rate was 6.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, and the United States ranked 26th in infant mortality among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.
After excluding births at less than 24 weeks of gestation to ensure international comparability, the US infant mortality rate was 4.2, still higher than for most European countries and about twice the rates for Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.
Whenever you hear claims of the United States being "number one," think about the statistic cited above for a moment. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study, as Porter notes, ties the shameful infant mortality rate directly to income inequality:
The US has a substantial -- and poorly understood -- infant mortality disadvantage relative to peer countries . . . . This post neonatal mortality disadvantage is driven almost exclusively by excess inequality in the US: infants born to white, college-educated, married US mothers have similar mortality to advantaged women in Europe.
Our results suggest that high mortality in less advantaged groups in the post neonatal period is an important contributor to the US infant mortality disadvantage.
A Washington Post article from 2013 offers evidence that the US is also at the bottom of the list when it comes to life expectancy: "The US ranks 26th for life expectancy, right behind Slovenia." From cradle to grave, the US is bottom feeding among industrialized nations.
Of course, as widely known, the US is number one in something besides concentration of wealth in the hands of few privileged individuals; we rank first in position for putting people in prison. According to Think Progress,
Both in raw numbers and by percentage of the population, the United States has the most prisoners of any developed country in the world -- and it has the largest total prison population of any nation. That didn't change in 2013. After several years in which the prison population dropped slightly, the raw number of inmates in United States custody went up again in 2013.
This is not a distinction; it is a grievous legacy of racial and class oppression.
In response to the impact of neoliberal globalization -- lost jobs and lower or stagnant wages for laborers -- Porter notes that the US government failed to respond in a way that would prevent the unraveling of the social fabric:
What set the United States apart -- what made the damage inflicted upon American society so intense [as a result of moving jobs to lower paying economies overseas] -- was the nature of its response. Government support for Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to hold society together.
What this reinforces is that the United States is a tale of two nations: one that is privileged and wealthy; and another that consists of the majority of the population that is left behind.
This, in essence, is an economic feudalism that is creating a dysfunctional society which pits the haves against the have nots. It undermines US national security in the broadest sense, much more than any alleged "enemy threat." It is an economic terrorism inflicted by one class -- the richest -- upon another.
Crossposted from Truthout. Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout.
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