Research shows a disturbing trend in the US: As life expectancy goes up, the life expectancy gap between rich and poor is widening. While US life expectancy hit 78.5 years in 2009, most gains went to those whose income is the highest. To illustrate the trend, the Washington Post takes a look at two counties in Florida: St. Johns, where golf courses, tennis courts, and hiking trails abound and women can expect to live to almost 83, men to more than 78; and neighboring Putnam, where incomes and housing values are much lower and the life expectancy is just 78 for women, 71 for men.
"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out," says the head of a healthcare nonprofit in Florida. "You just have to look at the socioeconomic and demographic differences—unemployment, education levels, income between the two counties—to understand what is going on. This is fueled by poor economics and a lack of access to health insurance and health coverage." And it has serious policy repercussions, as some lawmakers argue to increase the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare in an effort to lower US debt. Such a move would reduce benefits for those who make less, and who already tend to die younger. Or, as one expert puts it, "low-income populations would be subsidizing the lives of higher-income people."