Poverty rate is scandalous

By | October 12, 2011

In fact, according to the CIA records, 49 other nations have longer life expectancies than the United States. That includes places like Hong Kong (82.4), Ireland (80.2) and South Korea (79.5).

Likewise, infant mortality rates are higher in the U.S. According to the Census Bureau, 6.1 out of every 1,000 infants born here die in their first year. In Canada, that rate is 5 in 1,000 and 3.8 in 1,000 in the Czech Republic.

Health care has been, and continues to be, a hot topic in our country. Health care reform will no doubt figure heavily in the 2012 elections.

Many of us would like to believe that, despite problems, we have the best health care system in the world. We may have the best health care providers (since there are not great medical institutions like Mayo or Johns Hopkins in places like Monaco — life expectancy of 89.73), but the system doesn’t work to the benefit of everyone.

Recently, Dennis Sadowski of Catholic News Service interviewed Fr. Laurence Tracy, a priest in Rochester, N.Y. Rochester has a high rate of families living in poverty, about 30 percent. For 40 years, Fr. Tracy has kept statistics of his own about people whose funerals he presides over or helps plan.

“I do about 125, 130 funerals per year that I’m involved in some way or another,” he said. “Probably 20, 25 people die in their 40s or 50s as the result of liver failure and kidney failure because of drug and alcohol addiction, which is a consequence of poverty. It’s not just a moral problem. ‘They’re drunks.’ No, no. That’s due to a lack of beds for recovery.”

“People who die less than 60 years old do so because they don’t have health care,” Fr. Tracy said. “There’s no preventative care. They go to the emergency department for treatment. They’re not getting adequate care. They don’t have money for medicine. They can’t afford the co-pays.”

Fr. Tracy is right about affordability. The Commonwealth Fund, based in Paris, studies per capita health care expenses in developed nations. Their latest figures (2007) show that in the United States the average spent per person on health care was $7,290. This figure included out-of-pocket expenses, insurance payments and government expense. In Canada, the cost was $3,895 per person. In Australia, it was $3,137. Yet, Canada and Australia have lower child poverty rates and longer life expectancies.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, in 2010, 21 percent of American children lived in poverty. That agrees with statistics from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development this year which ranks us number 30 out of 34 countries studied. Only Turkey, Romania, Mexico and Israel (including the impoverished Palestinian areas of the West Bank) had higher poverty rates for children. (The lowest rates were in Denmark and Finland at less than 5 percent.)

Clearly something is wrong in this country — something we need to keep in mind as we prepare for another election year, as we look at health care reform, as we look at creating jobs.

As Mohandas Gandhi said, “The measure of a country’s greatness should be based on how well it cares for its most vulnerable populations.”

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