Increasing Income Would Improve Heath of Low- and Middle-Income Families

The higher their income, the better health people report, so even slightly increasing income levels could have a significant effect on the wellbeing of the low- and middle-income families, according to a report released Monday.

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Urban Institute examined health data against income levels and found that low-income adults are almost five times as likely as those with incomes above $100,000 to report being in fair or poor health.

According to the report, posted on the Urban Institute’s website, of the adults who earned below $35,000 in 2011, 22.8 percent reported being in fair or poor health, compared to 5.6 percent of those who earned above $100,000.

Although income levels have been linked to poor health in the past, what many people don’t realize is that the two form a gradient, meaning that even slight decreases in income can result in slightly poorer health.

“They are connected step-wise at every level of the economic ladder,” the report states. “Middle-class Americans are healthier than those living in or near poverty, but they are less healthy than the upper class. Even wealthy Americans are less healthy than those Americans with higher incomes.”

Varying income levels contribute to the health disparities that affect many minorities.

“Higher-income blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans have better health than members of their groups with less income, and this income gradient appears to be more strongly tied to health than their race or ethnicity,” the report states.

A variety of financial factors directly influence health, such as the ability to purchase comprehensive health insurance, pay medical bills or afford medicines. Partially because they have less access to care and the ability to pay for it, low-income patients are also “less likely to receive recommended health care services, such as cancer screening tests and immunizations,” the report states.

Higher-income families can also afford healthier food and lifestyles, as well as homes in areas with better schools and less environmental pollution and crime.

Recent economic trends may be worsening the health of all Americans except the most affluent, the researchers add. But policymakers can help boost the health of residents by supporting programs that help people increase their economic self-sufficiency through stable jobs, home ownership and income tax credits. Additional health benefits could come from programs designed to strengthen families and neighborhoods, such as early childhood education, parental support and community development programs, according to the report.

“Improving the economic conditions of Americans at many income levels — from those who are poor to those in the middle class — could improve health and help control the rising costs of health care,” the report concludes. “Jobs, education, and other drivers of economic prosperity matter to public health.”

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