National Security

Life Expectancy in the USA Declines Again, Other Indicators Paint Bleak Outlook

The United States of America: land of the free, home of the brave. The wealthiest and most powerful nation in history. While those platitudes certainly sound nice, an increasing number of indicators point out that not all is well in the land of opportunity. Sadly, Americans are experiencing shorter lives, decreasing happiness and poorer educational performance.

In fact, over the last three years, the United States is stumbling through the longest sustained decline in life expectancy since 1915-1918. Keep in mind, America was dealing with the Spanish flu and World War I back then. Both events certainly weighed on life expectancy.

The problems America faces today are chronic, suggesting that the decline could continue in the years to come. In 2017, life expectancy dropped a tenth of a year to 78.6, with men expected to live just 76.1 years, while women will get to enjoy 81.1 years on average.

Drug overdoses remain a huge part of the problem despite government efforts to combat the epidemic. Drug overdose deaths had another record-breaking year, reaching 70,237 in 2017. This marks a huge surge from 63,632. Opioid deaths alone accounted for 47,600 statistics. Street-sold fentanyl deaths account for most of the increase, with prescription and heroin-linked deaths remaining steady. Overall, opioid-linked deaths have surged six-fold since 1999.

Some might be tempted to hail the halt in the rise of prescription drug-linked deaths as a sign of success. However, this papers over a serious complication: those who can’t gain access to prescription opioids often resort to street drugs, including fentanyl.

Denying addicts access to prescription drugs could simply encourage them to use more dangerous street drugs. Indeed, fentanyl-linked deaths surged from 19,413 in 2016 to 27,466 in 2017. Fentanyl deaths numbered less than 10,000 in 2015.

Drugs weren’t the only cause for declining life expectancy. The 2017 flu season was particularly deadly, while Alzheimer’s disease has also been taking more American lives. Chronic respiratory diseases and strokes have also risen. Deaths related to heart disease, America’s number one killer, have actually declined.

Another emerging problem is suicide, which is becoming an epidemic in rural America. In 2017, 11.1 per 100,000 Americans committed suicide in urban areas, while 20 per 100,000 did so in rural areas. Some argue that greater access to guns helps explain the high numbers in rural areas.

It’s not just life expectancy numbers that indicate a bleak reality in America. Obesity rates continue to rise. In 2007-08, 33.7 percent of Americans were obese. By 2015-16, 39.6 percent of Americans were obese. The issue is so bad that it’s impacting the ability of the army to recruit soldiers and experts are warning that obesity is now a national security threat.

The United States is facing challenges outside of health as well. The World Happiness Report’s annual ranking found that the United States is losing ground based on their metrics. The United States fell four spots, from 14 to 18. The World Happiness Report looks at a variety of criteria, such as education, diversity, technology, economic factors, and emotions, to attempt to build a more complete picture of well-being.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to lag in educational measurements. In the 2015-16 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ratings, the United States scored 31st place. PISA examines children and their ability to understand reading, science, and mathematics. Most other educational measurements point to either stagnation or declines. Nationally, the average ACT score declined from 21 for the class of 214, to 20.8 in 2018.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong in America, but with society seemingly suffering a widespread decline, it’s also not hard to see why so many Americans are fed up with business as usual, the government, and everything else.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is a political consultant and has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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