Friday, February 17, 2006

Poverty Kills

Earlier this week I sat in another meeting during which I listened to more statistical confirmation of the sad, horrible, distressing facts that surround poverty as it relates to health outcomes.

The particular research tool that provided these new insights plotted several health outcomes and used 10 variables to analyze conditions in Dallas census tracts.

I found the variables studied very interesting:

Income Support
Home Ownership
Educational Attainment
Parental Status
Poverty Status
Vehicle Ownership
Telephone in House

Census tracts were scored and ranked from best to worst along these variables.

What was intriguing, but not surprising, was the fact that in the worst neighborhoods in Dallas, as judged by these criteria, the index of "relative well being" was worst.

Age adjusted death rates from cardiovascular disease were highest.

The same applied to the death rate from stroke.

In short, poverty kills.

Poverty is killing millions of our fellow citizens and it does so in ways and by means that are extremely preventable.

Poverty kills.

Does anyone care?


Jeremy Gregg said...

A plane hits a building, killing a few thousand people (many of whom happened to be very wealthy), and the world changes. As it should have.

Poverty hits community after community, literally killing thousands of poor, predominantly minority, people, and things actually get worse (read: budget cuts).

Neither tragedy is acceptable. But if you add up the years of life lost in 9/11, it pales in comparison to the number of years lost from poverty.

For example, let's assume that each of the 3,000 people killed in 9/11 would have lived 100 more years. Even in that impossibly optimistic guess, that's 300,000 years lost.

There are 34.4 million Americans living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even if each of them only loses a single year of life, that is 34.4 million years of American lives lost. More than 100 times the loss of 9/11.

In other words, for the poor, it's like every third day is a 9/11.

Larry, I am sure you have some numbers on the life expectancy of the poor compared to the wealthy. Right now, all I can find is the UK Department of Health's estimate that gap is around ten years.

That's 344,000,000 YEARS of American life lost to poverty. More than 1,000 times the years lost on 9/11 . . . assuming that every 9/11 victim would have lived for an extra century.

After 9/11, we created a whole new branch of the government (Homeland Defense) and launched an amazingly expensive war. Both of these, we can now see, came at the costs of programs to support the poor while simultaneously increasing the tax burden borne by the poor.

In light of what is going on in our country, I have to ask - are we spending money in a way that is really aimed at saving American lives, or just in a way that comforts those who are in power?

Jason Coriell said...

I commented a few months ago regarding the influence of this blog on me. I give God the credit for a fresh emphasis within our congregation to address the needs of the suffering among us. We are beginning to look at our fellowship and community through something other than "middle-class glasses." Several folks are now willing to meet in order to spend time praying, asking God to reshape our hearts and direct us in doing His will.

I just wanted you to know that this blog has been instrumental in educating and inspiring me and a few others from southern Ohio.

God bless you.

Charles Senteio said...

Does anyone care? Unfortunately the answer is "not really". I think that actions are the best indicator of caring and clearly we accept that certain lives are worth more than others. I believe that until we can develop a positive economic model for eradicating poverty (or not fighting wars, eliminating TB, global civil rights, elimination of religious intolerance, etc,) then things will not change. I believe that the “because it’s the right thing to do” rationale died just after 1964.

I do think that eliminating inequity IS profitable. I believe that the tide raises all boats and I am trying to incorporate this into my work. I am doing my best to apply my business experience to this more meaningful work by thinking in terms of $$$ generated or saved, instead of relying on the “right thing to do” argument.

Fortunately I (we) are not alone. Let me share a quote,
“What is needed is a better way to help the poor, a way that involves motivated participants on both ends and incorporates innovation to achieve sustainable win-win scenarios where the poor are empowered and the companies providing products and services to them make a profit."

Who said this? Some liberal bleeding heart? Some CEO of a non-profit (you know I luv ya man!)? No, the quote is from CK Prahalad, professor of corporate strategy and international business from the University of Michigan School of Business, a dude I took for corporate strategy when I was there. His latest book, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits,” was recently named’s 2004 best business book of the year. In it he argues that private-sector businesses can help alleviate poverty and simultaneously make a profit by turning the poor into consumers and developing viable markets for innovative products and services in under-served and long-neglected areas.

Perhaps there are more folks that care than we observe. Good to know we are not alone.

Amber G. Lehmann said...

I think that a there is a small but creative and compassionate contingent of physicians on the way, a group that cares deeply about the fact that poverty kills, and more importantly that the health care industry into which we will enter is complicit. Please pray that we will be truest to the cries of our patients who are farthest from all the indices of 'health': the poor.

Anonymous said...

You ask "Does anyone care?" which strikes me as the wrong or at least incomplete question. I believe the world is full of people who care. But caring alone doesn't change the status quo. Unless we care in a way that prompts acting beyond our own selfishness, little changes.

I believe that everyone who takes the time to come to this Urban Daily community believes we can make poverty history. We know that poverty kills. We know it bleeds from generation to generation. The question is how do we change this? How do we create the history we envision?

The economic model for eradicating poverty that Charles shared is just one example. As I read his post, I remembered a conversation I had with an prominent social critic and activist while walking through a concentrated homeless area of NYC. I had asked him what it would take to end poverty in America. He said that as soon as someone could figure out a way to make money from it, it would be gone. I remember being shocked. That was in 1989.

In the 16 years since, I've seen poverty grow, homlessness increase, opportunities shrink and funding from all sources wax and wane. I'm no longer shocked.

Like CK Prahalad, I now believe that ending poverty through profitability is a viable model. But there's more. It seems that a combination of forces -- economic, social, political, faith-based, cultural -- must work together to make poverty history. And call me naive, but I still believe the most fundamental force of all is a change of heart.

Anonymous said...

This is The Church here, and the answer to your question is no, no one cares (especially us). Also, I would humbly ask that you quit bothering us with your 'social gospel.' We are saved through Jesus and that is all that counts. Our destiny is secure in heaven and this world and how we treat it does not matter.
Furthermore, we are perfeclty content with writing a check and giving the poor not only a fish but a pole as well. (The fact that there is no pond for them to fish in is not our problem. We have bigger matters to attend to like harasing the FCC and boycotting Disney.)
The Church.

Larry James said...

Love all the comments. . .thanks to all for posting and "caring."

Some things related to poverty and its elimination have to do with wisdom and common sense investments. For example, investing in health care is much like taking care of our transportation infrastructure. Everyone benefits from an improved and well-maintained highway system. So too, everyone will benefit when public health improves for everyone.

Market forces can lift the poor and will when employers and vendors realize that inner city markets are there for the taking if they can just get past their own bias and their instinctive greed--margins maybe smaller, but with creativity and rethinking packaging, etc. (as Prahalad argues about Third World markets).

We may not be able to depend on "what's right" as a motive anymore--not sure we ever did!--as Charles points out. But we can rely on what is best for the most and wisest for us all! Keep posting, friends!

Daniel Gray said...
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