Americans have shorter life expectancies than their counterpartsin other western countries largelybecause of health issues that disproportionately affect thepoor.

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As a result, not only do Americans have shorter lives than doresidents of other industrialized nations, but there is a growinggap in the lifespan of the rich and the poor in the U.S.

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A new report from the Brookings Institute found that a manborn in 1920 lived an average of five years longer if he was in thetop 10 percent of earners than if he was in the bottom 10percent.

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But for those born in 1940, the gap was even wider; the richest10 percent live an average of 12 years longer than those toiling atthe bottom of the economy.

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What is driving the disparity?

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Two obvious culprits are obesity and smoking, which are muchbigger issues among the poor than the rich.

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In addition, fatal accidents that are far more common in theU.S. than in the rest of the western world, such as shootings anddrug overdoses, have an outsized impact on poor communities.

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The Brookings study focused on the implications of the disparityon Social Security.

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Read: Brookings paper calls for radical retirementoverhaul

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The report’s authors argue that attempts to save the program bycutting monthly benefits might seem like a fair trade off to thewell-to-do beneficiaries, who are on average living much longerthan retirees in past generations and therefore draw from theirpension for many more years.

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They may get less per month than previous generations, but theyreceive payments for more years.

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However, for the lowest-income workers, who haven’t benefitedfrom as great an improvement in life expectancy, a cut in monthlybenefits likely means a cut in the overall amount they receive fromSocial Security compared to past generations.

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