How much longer is a Connecticut resident likely to be around than someone who lives in Mississippi? Three full decades. That’s not the scariest statistic in the new Human Development Index report on well-being in the United States. The life expectancy gap between Asian-American males and black Americans in those states is a staggering 30 years.
The story isn’t one of race or geography. It’s about class: Connecticut is the wealthiest state, Mississippi the poorest. The disparities persist across health, education, and quality of life, and they give the lie to the persistent myth that Americans compete on a level playing field. Despite what the London Independent’s Leonard Doyle calls “an almost cult-like devotion to the belief that unfettered free enterprise is the best way to lift Americans out of poverty,” the Index describes our wealthy nation as “woefully behind when it comes to providing opportunity and choices to all Americans to build a better life.”
Ironically, this information comes to us courtesy of a statistical tool developed by to measure well-being in developing countries. Although the U.S. outspends the rest of the world on health care, it ranks 42nd in global life expectancy — behind every western European and Scandinavian country except Denmark.
Though class divisions are less rigid here than in Europe, they delineate the length and shape of our days. In other words, if you’re a black Mississipean, you’re unlikely to have given much thought to the deathstyle options tossed out by geriatrician Joanne Lynn . Without basic education or access to preventive medicine, you probably won’t live long enough to be in the room.