Economic inequality is making us sick

Stuart Appelbaum | 7/28/2016, 11:23 a.m.
Economic inequality has an even higher cost than many people realize. Beyond lowering living standards for working Americans, a treasure ...
Stuart Appelbaum

Economic inequality has an even higher cost than many people realize. Beyond lowering living standards for working Americans, a treasure trove of data compiled by the Center on Society and Health and the Urban Institute reveals that a major consequence of income inequality is poorer health and even shorter lifespans for those who earn less—poor people have an average lifespan six years shorter than the wealthy.  And the greater the gap, the worse these problems become. 

People with lower incomes tend to have more restricted access to medical care, are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, and have less paid time off and flexibility in their work lives to address health issues.

Simply put, the lower one’s income, the greater one’s likelihood of disease and premature death. Mental health is a casualty of lower incomes as well. People with lower incomes live shorter lives and suffer a lower quality of life. It’s a troubling trend in a society with a growing pay gap and rising economic inequality, where the gap between the richest Americans and everyone else keeps getting bigger. Economic inequality is hurting the health of American families.

So what’s the prescription?

Without good jobs and benefits, the impact of economic inequality will continue to hurt the health of working families. The best way for workers and communities to become stronger, and the best way to close the pay gap and the health gap, is through union jobs and union contracts.

It’s no secret that economic inequality is linked to a shrinking labor movement. At the exact same time union membership began to drop sharply in the 1970s, the share of income going to the richest Americans began to rise. The shared prosperity we saw with the growth of the labor movement has withered away, and while labor productivity has almost doubled since 1973, the median wage has grown only 4 percent.

It’s not only bad for our economy and weakening workers’ families, it’s bad for our health. A stronger—and healthier—America depends on a revitalization of the labor movement and better jobs for American workers.