New Health and Wealth Data: Insights for Journalists

by April 26, 2016
Health and wealth

New evidence suggests access to health care and the wealth gap may contribute to differences in lifespans between rich and poor Americans. Photo via Flickr user Images Money. CC BY 2.0

New evidence shows that the wealthiest Americans outlive their poorer counterparts, and it’s sparked new conversations about the interplay between wealth, poverty and health.

Here is what you should know about the new data on health and wealth:

New Health Inequality Project

A team of academic investigators and researchers led the Health Inequality Project, which just released a report of its findings. The project spanned more than a decade and tracked death records and tax returns of people across the U.S. While findings echoed earlier reports of a positive relationship between a person’s wealth and lifespan, the latest comprehensive data demonstrates this relationship in new ways. The online report and accompanying interactive tool help reporters by showcasing lifespan information by various demographics.

While the relationship between money and health has been well documented, the project found that the disparity between the lifespan of America’s richest and poorest is growing, not shrinking. Additionally, the report explains location-based data in a way that was not previously reported: poorer rural Americans are living shorter lives than poorer urban people.

The project was funded by a number of university, government and nonprofit entities and discloses those sources online.

Using the New Health and Wealth Data Locally

The Health Inequality Project created a number of different data sets based on their findings that reporters can investigate. They’re available in both processed and raw form for analysis online. A number of national publications have already used the data to look into national trends, but you can also crunch the raw data to come up with useful local insights for your readers.

You can access the entire database online or check out the files specific to your story. For instance, if you want health and income data specific to your coverage area, you can download a CSV file of that specific dataset.

Additional Health Resources for Your Community

Armed with health and demographic data, reach out to academics and health experts in your area. Have medical professionals seen a health disparity among patients of varying income levels?

Another indicator of health standards in your community can be tracked by the “county health ranking reports” gathered by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program ranks “healthiness” in counties based on lifespan reports and “how healthy people feel while alive.” Additionally, the institute also ranks counties’ health factors including health behaviors and economic factors.

Reporters can also browse state-by-state community health initiatives for story ideas on efforts to help Americans be healthier and live longer.

Notable Trends Among Middle-aged Whites

You can also explore trends for specific demographics. The Centers for Disease Control recently released a data brief highlighting life expectancy. White women were the only group with a decline in life expectancy; others increased or remained the same. The CDC brief follows a Princeton University paper documenting the sharp increase in the death rates for middle-aged whites. While the group still has the longest life expectancy, there is a sharp increase in early deaths.

The Princeton report also notes that since “the recent financial crisis, economic insecurity may weigh heavily on U.S. workers, and take a toll on their health and health-related behaviors.” White and often rural communities hit hard by the Great Recession have seen larger impacts on their health. Researchers identified rising suicide rates, as well death and illness from drug and alcohol abuse and heavy smoking as contributing factors.

Look for rural community health outreach programs in poorer or rural counties in your state. Agencies or nonprofits that provide health services for these populations could offer anecdotes or sources for features.