The Costs of Societal Neglect

The first quarter of the decade brought a spate of reports on the quality of life in America. In January a study by Harlem Hospital, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, reported one astounding fact: Men in Bangladesh have a better chance of living past age 40 than men in Harlem. A major urban area in the world's most powerful nation has surpassed in one critical negative indicator a small country whose very name has for years conjured up images of malnutrition and mortality.

Two months later the Census Bureau for the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families released a report which concluded that children in the United States are at greater risk for a number of social, economic, and health problems than children in the world's other developed nations. According to the report, the United States and Australia have the highest child-poverty rate among industrialized nations, and young U.S. males are five times more likely to be murdered than their counterparts in other developed countries. America's youth are also affected in higher proportions by divorce and teenage pregnancy.

On the heels of that report came another, the annual study of the nation's health by the Department of Health and Human Services, released March 23. While the study showed that, overall, Americans are staying healthier and living longer, it also showed a growing disparity between the health of black Americans and white Americans.

While white life expectancy averages 75.5 years, life expectancy for blacks is 69.5 years. For black men it is 65.1, more than 10 years below the national average for whites. Black men are seven times more likely to die of homicide than white men, and black women are more than four times more likely than white women to be murdered.

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