Life expectancy continues to fall, workers face health crisis

By Brian Williams
October 23, 2023

Declining life expectancy in the U.S. — now at its lowest point in over 25 years — is a product of the deepening social and moral crisis of capitalism today. Working people find themselves unable to afford decent medical treatment as prices soar in a “health” system that, like everything else under capitalism, is run as a business to maximize profits for hospital, pharmaceutical and insurance bosses, rather than to prevent disease and provide treatment to those in need.

In today’s crisis conditions, there has been a marked increase in the number of deaths from drugs and suicide. Opioid overdoses took the lives of over 109,600 people in 2022. At the same time, chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, liver ailments, kidney disease and diabetes — diseases that new drugs and treatments can increasingly treat successfully if diagnosed early enough — are killing more and more working people between the ages of 35 and 64 each year.

This class-divided reality has been expanding over decades. As bosses shuttered mines, factories and mills in cities and towns across the Midwest, Appalachia and elsewhere, workers lost not only their jobs but health coverage for themselves and their families.

Early deaths from chronic illnesses mean more than twice as many years are lost among people younger than 65 than from all overdoses, homicides, suicides and car accidents combined today, the Washington Post reported Oct. 3.

Life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped to 76 years. For Blacks it’s 71; for Native Americans, 65. In Ohio, for example, 20% of workers will die before they turn 65.

While life expectancy in other imperialist countries rebounded after the COVID-19 epidemic to an average of 82.4 years in 2021, in the U.S. it continues to fall.

And U.S. life expectancy contrasts sharply with that of Cuba (79.2 in 2023), which has far less resources than the U.S. and faces a brutal economic war from Washington. The difference is that Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement led workers and peasants there to overthrow the U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship and take power into their own hands.

In 1900, life expectancy at birth in the U.S. was 47 years. With gains made in medicine and technology to treat infectious diseases, life expectancy continued to rise in the 20th century, coming close to 80. But this is now unraveling.

“Americans are dying and suffering at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary,” the National Academy of Sciences said in 2013.

Small town, rural areas hardest hit

Working people in small towns and rural regions throughout the country, where some 60 million people live, are being hit the hardest. Since 2005, nearly 200 rural hospitals in the U.S. have shut down. The reason? Because the bosses don’t make enough profit off them.

More than 600 rural U.S. hospitals — over 30% of the country’s rural hospitals — are threatening to close, half of them making plans to do so immediately. Those that survive are eliminating maternity wards and other coverage that return less income, to try and keep afloat.

This means that working people living in these areas have much greater difficulty getting care. They have to travel greater distances to get to hospitals and clinics, something that can make the difference between life or death.

“Forty years ago, small towns and rural regions were healthier for adults in the prime of life. The reverse is now true,” the Post wrote. “Before the pandemic, adults 35 to 64 in the most rural areas were 45 percent more likely to die each year than people in the largest urban centers.”

Hospitals that serve working people are sorely neglected. Hundreds of children die or are left severely injured each year because hospital emergency rooms aren’t prepared to treat them. “Only about 14% of emergency departments nationwide have been certified as ready to treat kids,” the Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 1.

The fact is, one in 25 U.S. 5-year-olds today will not make it to their 40th birthday.