Poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to new research.
“Poverty silently killed 10 times as many people as all the homicides in 2019,” said David Brady, a professor at the University of California, Riverside and the study's lead author. “And yet, homicide firearms and suicide get vastly more attention.”
The analysis also found that the deadly effects of poverty are most pronounced once people enter their 40s, with poor people dying at far higher rates than their wealthier peers, even after controlling for overall health, smoking, and other factors.
We must take action to address gun violence. And we must connect extremists inaction on this issue to other forms of policy murder. Because as insane as the level of gun violence is in this nation, 10 TIMES as many people die from poverty here. https://t.co/6JJqfB0dfv— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) April 19, 2023
In 2019 alone, 189,000 deaths were linked to poverty among Americans 15 years or older, an estimate the study's authors call "conservative." Brady and his colleagues came to that number after analyzing death data from the Cross-National Equivalent File and income data from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, defining poverty as earning less than 50% of the median income (median household income was $69,560 in 2019).
“If we had less poverty, there'd be a lot better health and well-being, people could work more, and they could be more productive,” Brady said. “All of those are benefits of investing in people through social policies.”
The United States’ consistently high poverty rate might explain why the country lags behind in life expectancy, the researchers argue, noting that the U.S. has a “far higher poverty rate” than other wealthy democracies. Turkey, Estonia, Spain, and Italy all have lower poverty rates than the U.S. despite having less GDP per capita.
Readers on social media reacted to the study with anger, with many characterizing poverty as a result of policy inaction and capitalism run amok. Some even went so far as to call it "murder."
“What? Poverty is bad for my health? Nah?” a Redditor from Virginia commented sarcastically. “Just gotta pull myself up by the bootstraps, get a second full-time job, exist as a shell of a person for maybe one day a week, and I'll have enough money to pay rent, my car, renters/car insurance, credit cards, AND save money for the avocado toast I've always wanted to try.”
Another Redditor called American poverty and its effects on health "social murder," referring to a term Friedrich Engels used to describe how economic oppression led to premature death in 19th-century England.
According to the United States Census Bureau's 2021 data, 37.9 million people live in poverty in the U.S.
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