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Paul Krugman explains the depressing truth about life and death in red states

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Over the years, Paul Krugman has come across his share of Republicans who claim that thanks to right-wing economic policies, the United States is #1 in life expectancy — and the liberal economist and New York Times columnist typically responds that in fact, the U.S. lags behind a long list of developed countries where life expectancy is concerned. Krugman, in his December 2 column for the Times, compares life expectancy rates within the U.S. — demonstrating that the redder the state, the more likely one is to die young.

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“Back in the Bush years,” Krugman explains, “I used to encounter people who insisted that the United States had the world’s longest life expectancy. They hadn’t looked at the data, they just assumed that America was No. 1 on everything. Even then, it wasn’t true: U.S. life expectancy has been below that of other advanced countries for a long time.”

Krugman goes on to say, “What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation.” And Krugman, drawing on data presented in a 2018 article for the Journal for the American Medical Association, notes that residents of GOP-controlled states are more likely to die younger.

“I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population,” Krugman notes. “In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.”

Krugman attributes this red state/blue state disparity on life expectancy to a variety of factors, including access to health care, obesity rates and education.

“Public policy certainly plays some role, especially in recent years, as blue states expanded Medicaid and drastically reduced the number of uninsured, while most red states didn’t,” Krugman observes. “The growing gap in educational levels has also surely played a role: better-educated people tend to be healthier than the less educated.”

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Krugman also notes, “The prevalence of obesity has soared all across America since 1990, but obesity rates are significantly higher in red states.”

Krugman ends his column by noting that Attorney General William Barr has blamed “militant secularists” for suicide rates and substance abuse problems in the U.S., explaining why Barr’s claim is misleading.

“European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy,” Krugman stresses. “And even within America, these evils are concentrated in states that voted for Trump and have largely bypassed the more secular blue states. So, something bad is definitely happening to American society. But the conservative diagnosis of that problem is wrong — dead wrong.”

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