In Time is set in the “near future.”
But economic inequality has caught up with us sooner than expected. Right now, according to the New York Times,
Despite big advances in medicine, technology and education, the longevity gap between high-income and low-income Americans has been widening sharply.
The poor are losing ground not only in income, but also in years of life, the most basic measure of well-being. In the early 1970s, a 60-year-old man in the top half of the earnings ladder could expect to live 1.2 years longer than a man of the same age in the bottom half, according to an analysis by the Social Security Administration. Fast-forward to 2001, and he could expect to live 5.8 years longer than his poorer counterpart.
And it gets worse.
According to a new study by Barry Bosworth, Gary Burtless, and Kan Zhang (pdf), not only is there a large gap in life expectancy between those at the top and bottom of the economic scale. It’s actually been growing.
The authors find, for example, that the average life expectancy of a man born in 1920 in the top 10 percent of the mid-career income distribution is 79.3 years. The same man in the bottom 10 percent of the distribution has an average life expectancy 5 years lower. However, for men born 20 years later (in 1940), the difference in average life expectancy is 12 years.
The large and growing gap in life expectancy in the United States is even more grotesque when compared to our neighbors to the north. Again, according to the New York Times,
The experience of other countries suggests that disparities do not necessarily get worse in contemporary times. Consider Canada, where men in the poorest urban neighborhoods experienced the biggest declines in mortality from heart disease from 1971 to 1996, according to a 2002 study. Over all, the gap in life expectancy at birth between income groups declined in Canada during that period. And a study comparing cancer survival rates found that low-income residents of Toronto had greater survival rates than their counterparts in Detroit. There was no difference for middle- and high-income residents in the two cities.
“There are large swaths of the population that are not enjoying the pretty impressive gains the rest of us are having in life spans,” said Christopher J. L. Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. “Not everybody is sharing in the same prosperity and progress.”
A lot of liberals are complaining these days about focusing too much on the causes and consequences of economic inequality.
They’re just wasting our time.