The 2017 U.S. Census Bureau’s Official Poverty Measures reports that within the country, 40 million people — more than one in every eight Americans — live in poverty. Almost half of them are categorized as indefinitely in “deep poverty,” living with less than $2 a day.
Put that together with the fact that in the U.S., about 2.6 million people die every year — and most of those deaths are associated with poverty.
That changes U.S. politics. Research has shown that the haves have different political positions from the have-nots. By living longer and healthier lives, the haves have more opportunity to influence the politicians who craft the policies and programs that distribute public goods and services.
Meanwhile, because low socioeconomic status leads people to be sicker and to die earlier, poor Americans have far less chance of shaping political life — or of pursuing the policies that would help improve their health and lengthen their lives, such as improvements in health care, education, child care, neighborhood safety, nutrition, working conditions and so forth.
Here’s how we did the research
To demonstrate how this insidious cycle between poverty, bad health, and early death works, we draw on our new study. For this analysis, we looked at data from the National Institute on Aging’s Midlife in the United States Study — a 1995 nationally representative survey that followed respondents until 2005, recording which of them died and survived during this 10-year period.
This data set includes a wide range of psychosocial, physical and mental health indicators, as well as various measures that registered how often individuals engaged in politics through volunteer work, attending social meetings and giving donations to political campaigns, among others.
We measured the gap in political participation between respondents who did or did not survive until 2005. What we discovered was that before respondents with poor health died, they were 56 percent less politically active than their peers who survived because of better health.
More broadly, we found that low socioeconomic status was directly linked to bad health, which in turn led to premature death. All of that reduced poor Americans’ ability to engage in political life.
To further test our theory, we also considered the possibility that the poor are generally less involved in…