The expanding gap between rich and poor is not only widening the gulf in incomes and wealth in the U.S. It is helping the rich lead longer lives, while cutting short the lives of those who are struggling, said a study by the Government Accountability Office.
Almost three-quarters of rich Americans who were in their 50s and 60s in 1992 were still alive in 2014. Just more than half of poor Americans in that group made it to 2014.
“It’s not only that rich people are living longer but some people’s life expectancy is actually shrinking compared to their parents, for some groups of people,” said Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analyst at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Income inequality has roiled society and politics for years, animating the rise of Barack Obama out of the collapse of the financial system in 2008, energizing right-wing populism and the emergence of nationalist leaders like Donald Trump, and pushing the Democratic Party leftward. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who is seeking the presidential nomination, commissioned the report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ independent watchdog. “Poverty is a life-threatening issue for millions of people in this country, and this report confirms it,” Sanders said in a statement.
The watchdog found that while more older Americans were living into their 70s and 80s, not everyone was living longer. Greater levels of income and wealth were associated with greater longevity.
The report looked at the population of Americans born between 1931 and 1941. Just 52% of that group who had incomes in the bottom 20% of midcareer earnings were alive in 2014, compared with nearly 75% of people in the top 20%. The study found similar results when zeroing in on accumulated wealth instead of annual income.
The accountability office found that demographic characteristics were also associated with longevity. Almost 70% of women were living in 2014, compared with almost 60% of men. But, Romig noted, “the poorest 40% of women actually have lower life expectancies than their mothers did.”
Non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics tended to live longer than blacks: 68% of Hispanics and 65% of non-Hispanic whites lived to at least 2014, compared with 52% of non-Hispanic blacks.