Covering the tab for life’s basic needs has always been tough for lower income people. But increasing reports make it clear that being a member of the working poor is also hazardous to your health and could drive you to an early grave.
The New York Times recently detailed the differences between two jurisdictions separated by 350 miles – Fairfax County, Va. and McDowell County, W.Va. One is a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C., while the other is a declining community located in coal country. The median household in Fairfax makes nearly five times as much as the one in McDowell.
How does that translate into life expectancies? The average life span of women and men in Fairfax County are 85 and 82, respectively. Meanwhile, in McDowell County, it is 73 and 64. Those in the wealthier community has a life span equal to those living in Sweden, while those in the poorer on face a longevity on par with the average Iraqi.
Dollars in the bank is not a direct cause for this phenomenon. The kind of work one does and the level of education one has also seemed to be linked. There are also areas of the U.S., such as the Deep South, where the ties between poverty and lower life spans is particularly linked. A 2013 Center for Disease Control study notes that states where more than a third of people live in high poverty areas reported the lowest life expectancy.
So what is the answer? Well, there is no one solution. Like many of the most vexing issues America faces, overcoming the lifespan gap is complex. But that doesn’t mean government should sit on its hands. It can start by making sure that those who have worked hard all their lives are rewarded with the benefits they were promised.
Some in Congress have weighed a hike in the Social Security retirement age. But as the life expectancy numbers prove, this is a bum deal for those Americans who would rely on the benefit the most. They work hard all their lives, contribute to the fund and then get little to nothing out of it? Those who toil in the most difficult of professions should not be punished for their service.
There aren’t two Americas. Elected officials shouldn’t be making decisions that put those most in need at risk. The Teamsters and other unions have succeeded in making the workplace safer, but not all workers are so fortunate. Benefits like Social Security exist for a reason. Our government shouldn’t turn its back on hard-working Americans who need it the most.