From the “gee, no kidding?” files…

Poverty and poor health are intertwined, experts say

So, yeah, the headline is a no-brainer, but the article is worth reading and makes many good points–and notes that fewer and fewer of us can say that “poverty doesn’t affect us”:

An analysis of poverty rates and health published in the September issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people living in extreme poverty tend to have more chronic illnesses, more frequent and severe disease complications and make greater demands on the health care system.

“When we talk about poverty, there is the tendency to feel it affects a small percentage of the population and the rest of us are doing better,” said Steven Woolf, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of the study. But in this situation, he said, “we’re all doing a little bit worse.”

(More below…)

A Census Bureau report released Tuesday said that U.S. salaries across the board increased minimally, about $500 a year between 2004 and 2005. It’s also the first year that the poverty rate has not worsened since before President Bush took office.

The modest salary increase is not enough to counter what Woolf’s study calls a “sinkhole effect” on income, a disparity shifting middle- and upper-class families closer to the poverty level.

Fewer people can claim “poverty doesn’t affect me” as more individuals face layoffs and cutbacks, and are unable to afford health insurance, Woolf said. According to the National Coalition on Health Care, the average family pays about $2,700 a year for health insurance, not including out-of-pocket expenses for co-payments and prescription drugs. That number is expected to rise to $3,200 by the end of 2006.

For someone just scraping by, that figure is a huge dent in their budget–meaning that more and more people are simply unable to afford health insurance:

As financially strapped families struggle to cover basic needs such as food, shelter and the increasing cost of energy, health insurance often takes a back seat on the list of priorities. A National Health Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 40 million people of all ages went without insurance at some point in 2005.

Lacking health insurance means that diseases and illnesses–once diagnosed–tend to be farther along, making them more difficult and expensive to treat, costing much more money than they would have if caught early (or prevented in the first place). They note, too, that it’s often children that suffer the most in these conditions:

Poverty’s impact is felt most by the nation’s children. Children under the age of 5 are more likely to live in extreme poverty. Uninsured children are at greater risk of experiencing health problems such as obesity, heart disease and asthma that continue to affect them later in adulthood. The prevalence of these illnesses does not bode well for future generations, Woolf said.

“If we amplify the scale by the results of poverty left to run loose, the economic consequence to everybody, to all Americans and all taxpayers, will be substantial,” Woolf said. The prevailing thought is that the problem needs to be addressed, and quickly, he said.

Of course, this has been the prevailing thought for years–decades, even. And little has been done about it, leaving the problem to get worse and worse. Somehow with all our current budget problems and the sympathies of our leaders, I don’t see it getting better anytime in the immediate future, either.

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  1. I find it interesting that if health insurance costs increase $3200 next year it will equal approximately 10% of my dad’s salary. It’s not a major problem in a two-parent home, but think of the issues in single-parent homes. Paying 10% of your salary before taxes can be a major blow to families on tight budgets.

  2. Coming from a third world country, the impact of poverty is something that I have seen way too often. I wish those in power would realize that healthcare (and quality education) are fundamental human rights, and something that should not be determined by how wealthy someone is.

  3. “I wish those in power would realize that healthcare (and quality education) are fundamental human rights…”


    I never understand what people mean by this. It sounds like you are suggesting that I have the right to demand of any physician, at any time, any treatment that I require at any level of compensation I feel is appropriate. Or that no physician should have the right to set their own fees, that simply being in medicine should mean that you cannot choose your employer or the terms of your employment, which seems to violate the rights of doctors.

    I think that what people actually mean is that they feel that our society can afford to provide a baseline level of healthcare for every member, and that it would be in our best interests to do so. That is a long way from “fundamental human right”, but it is a defensible policy position.

  4. There are a number of features of poverty that contribute to poor health. We tend to think primarily about access to formal health care and that is certainly a major factor. For example, the link between poverty and poor health is much weaker in Canada than in the US because of the sorta-universal health insurance available here in the North. However, there are other factors. Our work in a low income rural area in Canada has shown that people who are actually poor identify the difficulty of accessing affordable quality nutrition and recreation and physical activity to be major impediments to good health.

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