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Wealth Gap Leads to Health Gap, With Blacks on The Bottom

There comes a time in many people’s lives where they decide they can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to address an issue that concerns them or someone near to them. They realize they must go after federal and local lawmakers to get issues of equity addressed.

Entitlement reform may be the issue that gets more rank-and-file Americans involved.

The Washington Post reported Monday that “a growing body of research” has revealed that the widening gap between the affluent and the less-so in this country isn’t just about money. Life expectancy, for instance, has been growing for Americans, generally, but the gains have been going to those at the upper end of the income ladder.

The Post is not the first to notice the gap.

In November, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a study that reported well-to-do and rich Americans were well ahead of other income groups in every leading indicator and that while every group took a hit at the height of the recession, the wealthy bounced back faster.

In 2008, PBS aired a four-hour documentary series entitled: “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” which looked at the roles that race and class play on health outcomes.

What The Post story does, however, is look at the wealth and health gap in terms of the current policy and budget debate and how that could ultimately impact poor and minority Americans in the not-too-distant future.

It probably comes as no surprise to many that the rich have better access to top-notch health care, don’t have to wait to see if their insurance – if they have health insurance – will cover a test or procedure, can better afford healthy foods and live in safer communities where jogging, biking or swimming can happen at a private club or community where safety issues are not a concern.

One’s zip code can be a key predictor of health outcomes or the freedom with which one can pursue a healthy lifestyle.

Poor communities, including many black neighborhoods, are hard hit by housing segregation, a lack of safe places for physical activity or places to buy healthy food at affordable prices. Those factors contribute to obesity and other negative health factors.

And in the midst of all of this, the debate over entitlements and the age at which people will be able to start collecting in the future could mean that many Americans, especially black Americans, may not get the benefits for which they worked so hard.

Some lawmakers have argued that raising the eligibility age to 65 for Medicare and 67 for full Social Security would help keep the systems solvent and make sense as life expectancy increases. But the less affluent, who tend to have greater health issues and die at an earlier age, would receive fewer benefits.

“People who are shorter-lived tend to make less, which means that if you raise the retirement age, low-income populations would be subsidizing the lives of higher-income people,” Maya Rockeymoore, president and chief executive of Global Policy Solutions, a public policy consultancy, told The Post.

“The only sliver of good news is that blacks, as a group, have been making solid progress on life expectancy in recent decades, even though we still lag whites—apparently for many reasons,” said Michael A. Fletcher, who wrote The Post article.

The question is whether African Americans can reach some sort of parity without help.

To be sure, lobbyists are already working on Congress to address the entitlement issue (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) and while the AARP, The Committee to Protect Social Security and other groups want to save those programs, there are those who say it is a matter of when, not if, benefits will be cut back and that they should be.

So maybe now is the time for average Americans to call, tweet, text and email their congressional representatives and make their feelings known about the imbalance—and remind officeholders that they vote.

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”


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