Posts Tagged ‘death’


Special mention

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Special mention

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In Brazil and around the world, sensationalist front-page headlines have focused on the links between the Zika virus and microcephaly, sexual transmission, and the coming pandemic.

Or, as Wilson Roberto Vieira Ferreira explains, the media have once again manipulated the themes of birth, sex, and death—”the most striking (and socially disciplined) features of human existence.”

What is missing from the story is, of course, inequality. According to Reuters,

Decades of rapid and chaotic urbanization in the nation of 205 million people have left many impoverished areas without basic sanitation, putting the poor at far greater risk of contracting Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses.

Some 35 million Brazilians have no running water, over 100 million have no access to sewage, and more than 8 million city dwellers live in areas that lack regular garbage services, according to the most recent census in 2010.

Last year, some 1.6 million cases of the dengue virus were reported, the most since records began in 1990. The virus, spread by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito as Zika, kills hundreds annually.

“The only thing that is going to break the cycle of epidemics will be a sharp increase in the investment and construction of infrastructure that provides basic sanitation,” said Dr. Vera Magalhaes, professor of tropical medicine at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, where she has spent three decades studying dengue and now Zika.

“Until that happens, we’ll live with this contrast in Brazil, where the rich have first-world sanitation and the poor live in the most precarious conditions imaginable, making them by far the most vulnerable to these illnesses.”

Americans die younger [ht: ja] than people in other high-income countries—by more than 2 years!


According to a study by Andrew Fenelon, Li-Hui Chen, Susan P. Baker just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (unfortunately gated), American men and women can only look forward to a life expectancy of 76.4 and 81.2 years, respectively, compared with the 78.6 and 83.4 years of their peers abroad.

The question is, why? The authors of the study focus on injuries, which are the leading cause of death for Americans between 1 and 44 years of age. Among injuries, those responsible for the greatest number of deaths are drug poisonings, firearm-related injuries, and motor vehicle crashes.

The injury causes of death accounted for 48% (1.02 years) of the life expectancy gap among men. Firearm-related injuries accounted for 21% of the gap, drug poisonings 14%, and MVT crashes 13%. Among women, these causes accounted for 19% (0.42 years) of the gap, with 4% from firearm-related injuries, 9% from drug poisonings, and 6% from MVT crashes. The 3 injury causes accounted for 6% of deaths among US men and 3% among US women.

Perhaps even more important, the authors of the study found systematic variation in injury deaths across countries, with relatively high rates in the United States. Therefore, they conclude,

Although injury prevention represents an important means to improve life expectancy, the existence of predictable international patterns of injury mortality may suggest that these causes of death reflect broad factors that go beyond individual policies.

In other words, there’s something seriously wrong in the United States, which is causing Americans to die young.


According to a new report from Committee on the Long-Run Macroeconomic Effects of the Aging U.S. Population—Phase II of the National Research Council, there’s a large and growing gap between the life expectancies (for both men and women) of those at the top and bottom of the distribution of income in the United States.

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For example, for a period of more than 30 years, there will have been no net gains in life expectancy at age 50 for males at the bottom of the earnings distribution. However, for males in the top earnings quintile, life expectancy at age 50 for the 1930 birth cohort is 31.7 years while, for those born in 1960, life expectancy at age 50 is projected to rise to 38.8 years.


between the 1930 cohort and the 1960 cohort, according to these estimates and projections, life expectancy is roughly unchanged for males at the bottom of the earnings distribution but increases by more than 7 years for those at the top.

The implication of these differential trends is that the gap in life expectancies is expanding rapidly. For males born in the 1930 cohort, the highest quintile’s life expectancy at age 50 is 5.1 years longer than the lowest quintile’s. For males born in the 1960 cohort, the projected gap widens to 12.7 years.

For women, the differences in life expectancies between those at the top and the bottom are over more pronounced.

These differences, in and of themselves, are extraordinary. Four decades of rising economic inequality have resulted in rising inequality in life expectancies.

The differences in life expectancies also mean that those who want to raise the retirement age (because average life expectancies have been rising) are disproportionately hurting workers at the bottom, since their expected lifetime losses from cuts in Social Security benefits are much larger than for those at the top.

Think about it: growing inequality means that the richest among us are living much longer than men and women at the bottom. And those at the top who want to cut Social Security benefits are hurting those at the bottom even more after they retire.

The grotesque levels of inequality we’re witnessing these days hurt the poorest among us when they’re alive—while they’re working and after they’ve retired—and are pushing those at the bottom to quicker deaths.

That’s the kind of society we now live (and die) in.



Death and taxes are pretty certain. So is the fact that employers complain they can’t find workers with the appropriate skills. Always. Now as in the past.

The problem is, the data on wages don’t reflect any kind of shortage. Real wages are not going up, which is what would happen if there actually were a shortage of workers with the skills employers want to hire. What the chart above shows is that nominal wages have been increasing about 2 percent per year, and real wages have been mostly unchanged.

Even today, with the official unemployment rate falling to 5.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls decreased in December by 5 cents to $24.57.

So, no, there’s no skills shortage. If employers want to back up their complaint, they should start increasing wages. Which they’re simply not willing to do.

And that, too, is as certain as death and taxes.


*With apologies to Daniel Defoe.


Now that the semester is over, I was doing a bit of channel-surfing and noticed that both Ax Men (in which “falling trees, bone-crushing equipment, razor sharp lines, lack of attention and sometimes just freak accidents can kill a logger in an instant”) and Deadliest Catch (“the fishermen who risk their lives in one of the most dangerous jobs around”) are still on TV. And they’re right: according to the AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job [pdf], logging and fishing have the highest fatality rates of any occupation.


But what we don’t find on TV are shows about the occupations with the highest rates of non-fatal injuries (police procedurals, in which the “vics” are the only ones ever injured, and Nurse Jackie, in which the injuries are mostly self-inflicted, don’t count): nursing, producing manufactured homes and trailers, local police protection, and working in iron foundries.

I guess we just prefer to watch workers die.