The U.S. has a far higher poverty rate than other affluent democracies. Considerable research demonstrates that poverty is likely “fundamental causes” of disease that also affect its outcome. Poverty embodies access to important resources which consequently can mean the maintained association with disease even when intervention mechanisms change.
A study led by David Brady, a UCR professor of public policy, estimates the association between poverty and mortality: quantifying deaths associated with poverty. They measured poverty relatively as less than 50% of the median income. “Current poverty” was observed within each year, and “cumulative poverty” was grouped to the past 10 years. Current poverty was associated with a 1.42 greater mortality hazard while cumulative poverty – which compares the data of being always in poverty and never being in poverty in the past 10 years – was associated with 1.71 greater mortality hazard.
The survival of individuals in poverty begins to decrease significantly in their 40s than people with higher income and more adequate access to resources. The gap between the survival rate of those in poverty and those that aren’t increases until 70 years of age when the survival rates converge. The research found that current poverty was a larger threat to public health than accidents, lower respiratory disease, and stroke. In 2019, current poverty resulted in 10 times as many deaths as homicide, 4.7 times as many deaths as firearms, 3.9 times as many deaths as suicide, and 2.6 times as many deaths as drug overdose. Cumulative poverty showed approximately 60% greater mortality than current poverty and was associated with great mortality than obesity and dementia.
High poverty rates in the US begets lower life expectancy. These estimates can help understand racial inequalities in life expectancy as those of the global majority are more likely to be affected by poverty in the US. The study also considers the benefits of reduced economic costs from lower mortality that can be prompted by poverty-reducing social policies. Of course, COVID-19 had seriously aggravated socio-economic conditions; the effects of which have not been fully represented in the study. The researchers note that the study’s estimates may be conservative about the numbers of deaths associated with poverty. Researchers propose that poverty requires serious consideration as a major risk for death in the US.