A study published earlier this month in The Journal of the American Medical Association and written about in The New York Times reveals that while rich Americans overall are living longer, some poor people are dying sooner — depending on where they live. In certain parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, the Times reported. Many of those communities are found in Middle America’s “drug overdose belt,” where the nation’s opioid epidemic is concentrated.
Santa Barbara ranks high on the list of metro areas where poor men and women — who reside in households earning less than $28,000 a year — live the longest. Poor Santa Barbara men live the third longest (79.4 years) behind the cities of New York and San Jose. Women were also third (84.0 years) after Miami and New York. Nationwide, poor men live the shortest in Gary, Indiana (74.2 years), and women (80.0 years) in Las Vegas. The top 1 percent in income among American men live 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent; for women, the gap is 10 years.
On average, the life expectancy for a poor 40-year-old in Santa Barbara County is 81.6 years. Here, the poor will die about six years before the rich, who make more than $100,000 a year. That’s roughly equivalent to the difference in life expectancy between an average man in the United States and one in Nepal.
Why Santa Barbara scored so well is more difficult to answer, but researchers point to a few data points with the most significance. The percentage of poor people who smoke in Santa Barbara (14 percent) is much lower than the national average (26 percent), fewer are obese (24.9 percent versus 28 percent nationwide), and our local government spends more per capita ($3,000) than the rest of the country ($2,500).
Read the full Times report here.