We must reverse the blow that COVID has dealt to American life expectancy. Here is how | Ray E. Landis

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The news has taken a depressing turn in recent weeks. Reports of the rise in COVID-19 cases, the recapture of Afghanistan by repressive religious fanatics, and the fires and floods around the world show problems that are difficult to resolve.

The pessimistic situation is exacerbated by the number of people who now depend on social media for their information. Twitter and Facebook have flourished as places to complain and cynically criticize, and those who use them exclusively to keep abreast of current events can hardly be blamed if they are sure that civilization is about to go. collapse.

So, it may be surprising to recognize that in the midst of all the negativity today, there are a lot of good things to celebrate. The United States and much of the world continue to make progress in improving the lives of its citizens.

Is progress going as fast as many of us want it to be? Of course not. We still live in an extremely unequal country and world, where skin color and the circumstances of birth play far too important a role in determining the path of life. The thirst for money and power still dominates the destiny of nations and the global environment.

Yet, compared to 25, 50 or 100 years ago, more people have opportunities they could only dream of in previous generations. Blatant discrimination based on gender, skin color or sexual orientation has decreased. Access to education has widened. Advances in technology and transportation have opened up new worlds for many.

But perhaps the greatest advance has been in longevity. Life expectancy in the United States has increased from less than 70 years in 1960 to almost 79 years in 2019. A troubling reality of this statistic is the recent news that life expectancy has dropped by almost 1, 5 years in 2020. COVID-19 is at the origin of this reversal. , because the vast increase in deaths during the pandemic shows how statistical trends cannot explain such a dramatic event.

As the COVID-19 tragedy is a step backwards, the progress our health care system and our social insurance network are making in providing Americans with better lives is a story we take for granted. Social Security celebrated its 85th anniversarye anniversary last week, while Medicare turns 50 in three years.

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Both of these programs deserve a great deal of credit not only for increasing the longevity of Americans, but also for the vast improvement in the way older Americans live as they age. Because not only do people live longer, but they generally lead healthier and more active lives.

We always celebrate when someone turns 100. But many may not remember when it was such a rare occasion that TODAY meteorologist Willard Scott announced the names of everyone across the country who turned 100 every morning at the end of his report. , often with a photo of the celebrant.

No national television show has time to mention every American who turns 100 today. But we must take the time to celebrate the progress that is enabling more and more people to reach such a milestone.

Not too much time though. Because progress must be defined as a willingness to accept change in order to improve everyone’s situation. And large segments of our society are not interested in changes that threaten their current wealth, power or position in society.

The recent announcement of the 2020 census results shows an older and more diverse nation with a larger portion of its population concentrated in urban and suburban areas. These numbers point us to policy adjustments that reflect these demographic trends in order to maintain progress in improving the quality of life for Americans.

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But resistance to such political adjustments is intense on the part of those who would lose power and influence – and money. The realities of a changing climate, a changing population and shifting priorities mean that societal investments are going to be needed, but the growing wealth gap and the desire of those at the top of that gap to stay there. will lead to a bitter struggle to prevent the kinds of initiatives needed.

Change and progress is complicated business. The mess is often dramatic and it’s the kind of thing social media thrives on. But like any good home improvement project, the mess that is created leads to an end result that makes life better. We need to keep working to make sure our current mess translates into a better future.

Ray E. Landis writes about issues important to older Pennsylvanians. Her work appears every two weeks on Capital-Star’s comments page. Readers can follow him on Twitter @RELandis.

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