Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Belongings of the homeless on a Los Angeles sidewalk in Skid Row on May 30, 2019. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Poverty in America a Literal 'Death Sentence,' Says Sanders, Following Devastating GAO Report

"If we do not urgently act to solve the economic distress of millions of Americans, a whole generation will be condemned to early death."

Jake Johnson

A comprehensive Government Accountability Office study commissioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders and published Monday found that low-income Americans have significantly shorter lives than the rich, leading the Vermont senator to declare that poverty in the world's wealthiest nation is a "death sentence."

"Poverty is a life-threatening issue for millions of people in this country, and this report confirms it," Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement. "We are in a crisis never before seen in a rich, industrialized democracy."

"Poverty is a life-threatening issue for millions of people in this country, and this report confirms it."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

To determine the relationship between wealth—or lack thereof—and life expectancy, the GAO examined a representative sample of Americans born from 1931 through 1941, making them between 51 and 61 years of age in 1992.

"The same individuals have been re-interviewed every two years since, provided they continued to participate in the survey, and the most recent complete data is from 2014, when those who were still alive were 73 to 83 years old," according to the GAO.

The agency found that just 48 percent of those in the bottom 20 percent of the wealth distribution were still alive in 2014. By contrast, over 75 percent of those in the wealthiest 20 percent were still alive, indicating that—in the words of the GAO—"income and wealth each have strong associations with longevity."

"For three straight years, overall life expectancy in the wealthiest nation in world history has been declining, often driven by deaths of desperation and despair: liver disease, drug overdoses, and suicide," Sanders noted.

The Vermont senator stressed that only immediate and transformative action will be enough to close the growing and deadly gap between the rich and poor.

According to the GAO, the average wealth of the richest 20 percent of older U.S. households more than doubled between 1989 and 2016. Meanwhile, between 1989 and 2013, the average wealth of older households in the bottom 20 percent fell from $4,500 to negative $4,300.

"We must put an end to the obscene income and wealth inequality in our country, and ensure living wages, quality healthcare, and retirement security for our seniors as human rights," sand Sanders. "If we do not urgently act to solve the economic distress of millions of Americans, a whole generation will be condemned to early death."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Addressing Crisis 'Existentially Imperiling' Its People, Vanuatu Declares Climate Emergency

"We are in danger now, not just in the future," said Prime Minister Bob Loughman.

Andrea Germanos ·

'Grotesque': Disgust as Trump Reads Names of Uvalde Victims at NRA Convention

Former President Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were among those pushing a "good guys with guns" theory that "utterly failed" the latest victims of a mass shooting.

Andrea Germanos ·

Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·

Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·

'We Can Do Better' Than Biden's Paltry Student Debt Relief Plan, Says AOC

The president's approach, said the New York Democrat, is "just enough to anger the people against it *and* the people who need forgiveness the most."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo