The Health Toll of Income Inequality

Income inequality may be tied to declining health and life expectancy among low- and middle-income US workers, study says

US workers may literally be sick of income inequality.

A new report from the University of California Los Angeles' Fielding School of Public Health found that the increasingly difficult working conditions of low- and middle-income workers — including lack of sick leave, working multiple jobs, high stress levels and exhaustion — may be leading to poor health. This includes health issues like heart disease, obesity and shorter life expectancy.

“Changes in the work environment — such as increasing job insecurity, work performed outside of a regular full-time contract, and having fewer workers to do the same amount of work — are taking their toll on a workforce,” said lead study author Dr. Linda Rosenstock, a UCLA professor of health policy and management, in a press release.

According to the press release, the average CEO earned 25 times the salary of an average worker in 1970, while 17 percent of all income went to 5 percent of wage earners. That has changed to 22 percent of all income going to the top 5 percent. And while workers' salaries have remained stagnant, health care costs have begun surpassing wages for some, these researchers said.

“In 2013, among firms with at least 35 percent of their workforce making $23,000 or less per year, 48 percent of workers for single coverage had a deductible of at least $1,000 — a significant portion of their income,” Dr. Rosenstock said.

This report, which was published last month in the American Journal of Public Health, also focused on one industry with particularly high income inequality: health care.

According to co-author Dr. Jessica Allia R. Williams, of the Harvard School of Public Health, workers are facing rising health care costs themselves, while being forced to work more efficiently, work overtime and face workplace hazards, such as those caused by needles and lifting.

“Although political differences may divide the policy approaches our elected officials may take, addressing income inequality is likely to improve the overall social and health well-being of those currently left behind,” Dr. Rosenstock said.

Funding sources and conflicts of interest for this study were not available at the time of publication.