New numbers from a NYTimes report paints a pretty bleak picture of the United States, and it’s one that doesn’t look like we’re going to be improving in the near future.
Before I go any further, let me note something positive: the United States is, without a doubt, a land of highs. High fat, high infant mortality, high teenage pregnancy, and high incarceration.
The United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrial world. It also has one of the highest rates of single parenthood, with nearly a quarter of children living with one parent. Infant mortality has also soared under the watch of the so-called “Pro-Life” movement, with a mortality rate twice what it is Germany, meaning that our family fabric is in pretty bad shape.
At one time, the United States ranked 13th in life expectancy for girls, out of 34 recognized industrial societies. Today, it’s 29th.
The War on Drugs and it’s cousin, prison privatization, has brought a job boom in the private security sector precipitated by an incarceration rate that’s triple what it was forty years ago and five times that of any other wealthy democracy.
Quality of life, survival, and life expectancy are plummeting; the United States ranks at or near the bottom among high-income countries in these areas, according to a report on the nation’s health by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.
In the NYTimes article, author Eduardo Porter outlines the full scale of our decay:
Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.
[B]laming globalization and technological progress for the stagnation of the middle class and the precipitous decline in our collective health is too easy. Jobs were lost and wages got stuck in many developed countries.
What set the United States apart — what made the damage inflicted upon American society so intense — was the nature of its response. Government support for Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to hold society together.
And that’s part of the rub. Economists from a number of universities like the University of Chicago, MIT, and USC, conducted research to try to find out why children die at a rate exponentially higher than European children.
The answer, in retrospect, is pretty obvious: the obscene rate of income disparity, all of which stems directly from Reagan’s Voodoo Economics in the 1980s.
Porter outlines how steep the challenge is:
The challenge America faces is not simply a matter of equity. The bloated incarceration rates and rock-bottom life expectancy, the unraveling families and the stagnant college graduation rates amount to an existential threat to the nation’s future.
That is, perhaps, the best reason for hope. The silver lining in these dismal, if abstract, statistics, is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent it.
We can all hope.