A recent New York Times article highlighted the incredible impact of different income levels in different communities. The two communities of focus were Fairfax County, Virginia, one of America’s most affluent counties, and McDowell County, West Virginia about 350 miles away.
Median household income is $107,000. By contract, McDowell has declined in conjunction with the decline of the U.S. coal industry. Median household income is roughly one fifth of Fairfax’s. Unemployment is high, drug abuse is rampant and lives are short. In McDowell, the average life expectancy of men is 64 and for women 73, about the same as in Iraq. In Fairfax, men live 82 years on average, women 85, about the same as in Sweden. At a time of medical breakthroughs in the U.S. and around the world, women’s life expectancy in McDowell has actually dipped by two years since 1985. In Fairfax, it has climbed by 5 years.
These trends characterize much of America. Nationally, for the upper half of the income spectrum, men who reach the age of 65 are living approximately 6 years longer than they did during the late 1970s. Men in the lower half are living just 1.3 years longer.