One of the nastiest things about the years after the Republicans took control of the Congress in 1994 and Bush the White House in 2001 was the increase in inequality in the US. The rich not only got richer and the poor, poorer, but rich got more comfortable and led better lives. The idea that they got rich because all they did was work is nonsense. They had plenty of time to spend their money and relax. Moreover the prosperity in the economy didn’t accrue to everyone. It was the folks at the top that benefitted. We all know that the rising tide only lifted the yachts, but we sometimes forget that this can also be measured in non-monetary ways, too. This week the CDC released a “Quickstat” comparing the percentage of adults over 25 reporting regular recreational physical activity of at last 30 minutes of a moderate level at least five times a week or 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week. We don’t have the data by income or social class but we are given it by a reasonable proxy, educational level. Here is the comparison between 1997 and 2007, adjusted for a standard population:
Over both time periods you can see that the proportion of adult Americans who exercised for pleasure was directly related to educational level: the higher your educational level (which is correlated with income), the more likely a person was to engage in leisure-time physical activity. Not a surprise. But we also see something else. The gap widened, with the highest educational level having an increased proportion while each of the lower levels decreasing. If you completed college you were three times as likely to have exercised than if you had not completed high school.
Inequality is also a public health problem. Inequality kills.