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America, How Ya Doing?


2018: What a year:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, reported in November that life expectancy for the average American ticked downward for the third year in a row. The news attracted a storm of attention, given the record number of suicides and surging drug overdoses driving the trend — despite progress in reducing deaths for top sources of death in the United States, such as heart disease or cancer.

Other trends, however, passed by more quietly. In health care, for example, maternal deaths inched up slightly this year to 20.7 per 100,000 live births, according to data from the United Health Foundation. In fact, giving birth in the United States has become increasingly deadly over the past few decades, placing our country in the same category as developing nations such as Afghanistan and Swaziland. And the rates are even worse for mothers of color.

Infants are facing their own hurdles as well. The latest CDC data released this year shows that U.S. infant mortality rates, after steadily falling over the past few decades, haven’t decreased significantly for five years. Today it stands at 5.9 deaths per 1,000 births, far higher than the average rate of 3.9 deaths for developed countries. Again, it’s even worse for infants of color.

We can attribute many of these trends to a lack of access to health care, which itself is looking pretty grim. Data released this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that, in 2017, we’ve begun to reverse gains in health-care coverage for the first time since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010.

Okay, but what about the economy? The stock market might have stumbled in the past month, but most Americans still fared pretty well this year, right?

Yes, but there are worrisome holes here, as well. Median household incomes rose for the third-straight year in 2017, but the economy hasn’t benefited everyone equally. In fact, median incomes fell for African American households.

And while unemployment is at the lowest rate in almost 50 years, the percentage of people in the labor force has remained mysteriously low relative to other developed countries. Experts say part of that trend can be explained by demographics as baby boomers retire, but U.S. participation rates also lag for people of working age. One analysis from this summer found that if the United States had the same working-age participation as Britain, we’d have to factor another 11 million people into the unemployment rate.

Consider, also, that despite persistent economic growth, the number of people receiving food-stamp benefits remains more than 50 percent higher than the number before the beginning of the Great Recession. Or that homelessness in the United States ticked up for a second year in a row. Or that child homelessness is surging in some parts of the country.

I’m sure 2019 will be a peach.

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