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"How inequality harms health -- and the economy"

CBS News Money Watch featured a report co-written by FSPH Dean Emeritus Linda Rosenstock and alumna Jessica Allia Williams, PhD '13, on the connection between inequality in income and inequality in health.
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Date: 
Friday, March 6, 2015

One of the hottest topics around lately concerns the widespread effects of inequality. For example, evidence suggests that when inequality is very large, it can lower economic growth. But there's quite a bit of uncertainty about how this occurs. What are the pathways that connect large disparities in income and wealth to economic growth?

Recent research (summarized here) from UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health provides evidence that income inequality is associated with inequality in health. In particular, lower income is associated with "high levels of stress, exhaustion, cardiovascular disease, lower life expectancy and obesity." These factors alone could lead to lower economic growth than we would have if the work force were healthier.

Also important when thinking about the impacts on long-run growth are the potential intergenerational impacts. As Dr. Linda Rosenstock, the UCLA paper's senior author, noted, these health effects aren't limited to the parents -- children are also affected.

Does this matter for economic growth and intergenerational mobility? Some research says it does. Evidence from the Food Stamp programshows that healthier children contribute more to the economy later in life. In particular, children who had access to food stamps "grew up to be healthier and more productive than those who didn't, which means that they made a bigger economic contribution."

The authors also asked whether Affordable Care Act will reverse these trends, and found that the answer is uncertain. The rising number of people with health insurance due to Obamacare will lead to better health outcomes.

But at the same time, "early evidence suggests that the ACA is causing lower-income workers to have to pay more of the costs of care out of their cash compensation," which could lead to more stress and the negative health outcomes that come with it as lower-income households struggle to make ends meet each month.

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